Plastic bottle waste

How can Food and Drink Brands Fight for Zero Waste?

The world of food and drink has been undergoing many changes in the face of the sustainability concerns, particularly concerning waste. What are food and drink brands doing to achieve zero waste?

Last month, Elephants attended the International Food & Drink Event held at the ExCel in London. While we were there, we had the pleasure of listening to insightful and inspiring speakers on some of the industry’s most relevant trends and concerns.

One particular topic that came up in discussion was sustainability within food and drink. It was no surprise to us given the growth in consumer awareness and concern with sustainable businesses. In a 2021 study, Deloitte found that 1 in 3 consumers claim to have stopped purchasing from certain brands over ethical and sustainability-related concerns. Food and drink brands, whether they’re start-ups or multi-nationals, are all having to adapt and become as eco-conscious as their customers, and part of this sustainability journey includes achieving zero waste.

So, what is the food and drink sector doing to tackle waste?

Bye-bye ‘best before’ labels

Non-profit WRAP revealed that 70% of food waste comes from within households. A large part of this is due to misunderstandings around best-before labels. Many consumers seem to treat ‘best-before’ synonymously with ‘use-by’ dates. This lack of awareness results in throwing out products that are otherwise fine for consumption. And consequently, increasing levels of food waste.

In a bid to combat household food waste, we see many debates around the removal of ‘best before’ labels in order to prevent good food from being discarded. Now, businesses are making their move. In mid-March of this year, we saw Ocado axe ‘best before’ labels on certain fruit and veg. They expect this move to cut down on thousands of tonnes of food waste and call for consumers to use their judgement on when something is still good to eat or should be thrown away, instead of relying solely on labels.

And it’s not just ‘best before’. At the start of 2022, we saw Morrison’s supermarket scrap ‘use by’ dates on 90% of their own-brand milk. In doing so, they hope to reduce the amount of milk waste in the UK. Instead, they encourage the old-school ‘sniff test’ to identify if the milk has gone bad or not.

Source: Morrison’s

Cross-industry collaboration & working with competitors

Net zero is a team effort. Not only within a business but beyond. We have seen businesses in different sectors come together to reach their sustainability goals. We have even seen competitors collaborate to create solutions for shared concerns within their industry.

For example, Nestlé and Jacobs Douwe Egberts UK came together to launch Podback, the first coffee pod recycling service. The initiative launched in April 2021 with the aim to reduce waste from the end-user by providing a simple process to collect used coffee pods instead of just throwing them in the bin. Podback brings together key coffee players such as Nespresso, Nescafé Dolce Gusto, Tassimo, Starbucks and many more.

Podback also serves as an example of cross-industry collaboration with the soil, energy and other sectors. Their website explains that they take the collected pods to a specialist reprocessing plant. Here, they separate the packaging from the used coffee grounds. Ultimately, the coffee grounds are used as soil improver and renewable energy whilst any plastic and aluminium components are transformed into new products ranging from beverage cans to car components.

“No company can do this alone.”

Emma Keller, Head of Sustainability at Nestlé UK & Ireland

Creating alternative uses for food waste

As we saw with Podback, there’s a lot of sense in finding alternative uses for what we usually consider to be waste. While food does go bad and no longer be eaten, modern day technology and innovative thinking helps transform these by-products into something new and useful.

Recently, the Sweden-based Restaurang VRÅ had a local designer, Carolina Härdh, create restaurant furniture from its own food waste. Härdh used leftover rice starch, fish bones and oyster shells from VRÅ’s kitchen to create a dual-purpose stool and side table. The piece serves as an example to guests the unexpected value of food waste. Furthermore, to achieve zero waste in the production process, Härdh used the scraps to make small chopstick rests and the restaurant’s rooftop farm used the biomaterial leftovers as nutrient-rich fertiliser.

Source: Carolina Härdh

From our observations, it’s clear that big and small players in the world of food and drink can take steps to reduce the food and other waste. From supermarket giants to independent restaurants, we’re looking forward to the changes to come.

A big thank you to ‘The road to net zero: How can we achieve greater sustainability in food & drink?’ panel, including; host Emma Piercy from The Food and Drink Federation and speakers; JAMES PERSAD of FareShare UKEmma Keller from NestléStephen Mackenzie of WRAP and Adam Baisley at Olleco whose thought-provoking discussion led us down a rabbit hole of fantastic businesses fighting for zero waste.

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