Food waste: is there a role for open data in reducing it?

The amount of food waste in the UK is a huge number, particularly if you translate it into animals. Much of what’s being done about it is in the reduction phase, by redistributing food.

What we don’t know is: are there hotspots for food waste? Supermarkets like Tesco have informal arrangements with charities to pass on food, but don’t really track the wastage systematically. It’s also hard to quantify what is food waste, and what isn’t. All the councils have to report “green” waste that includes garden and plant waste, so it’s hard to separate it. But they don’t track where it goes and how it is treated.

From the value chain perspective it’s better for food to be redistributed rather than recycled.

Circular economies

In Dubai, they have public fridges where you can leave food for the homeless. There are apps in the UK where some shops can sell their excess food at a bargain price. Retailers should have this sort of data if they’re managing their supply cabin properly – but would they consider it to be competitive data?

The Real Junk Food project started in Leeds and is in conversation with supermarkets. The big supermarkets just don’t know where they are wasting food. Could they fund a service that tells them that? Adam Smith, founder of the Real Junk Food Project, is working on that and has also been talking to ODI Leeds.

Calling food waste “waste” is a problem – waste is just a resource in the wrong place. Scotland is recognising that there’s a future in the circular economy – treating waste as a resource. For example, there’s a company making crisps out of waste broccoli stems. Part of the principle of the circular economy is to try and retain material it at the highest value you can in the chain. Classifying waste is important in achieving that.

London has a huge amount of waste bread, for example – and that’s being used as a brewing resource for Toast Ale. And they’re expanding to do more brewing with it. The miller and the brewer used to be side by side for a reason. Glasgow wants to be the first circular economy city.

How much data can we open?

The big question is: how much of this data could you make open? There’s certainly scope for honest, brokered data, where open data might make companies vulnerable to competitors. If, in the future companies will be fined for excess waste – then there’s a value in sharing data that reduces that.

Some companies are more open to this than others: the Co-op are quite accepting, for example. In most instances, though, getting access to this sort of data is an NDA process, which means it won’t be open.

One challenge is that the FMCG market is so driven by promotion that is essentially encouraging people to buy more than they need. incentivising people to always increase volume encourages waste. Is there any data on this waste? Some surveys suggest it could be about 30%.

There’s already data about production level waste – how much milk is over-produced, for example. But where there’s an absences is on thinks like milk waste in coffee shops. But micro level changes can make a difference – a local cooperative creating biodiesel from chip fat led to big multinationals getting involve din the industry, as they saw there was money to be made.

The national consumer survey might be useful – and, in fact, the ONS might well have some relevant information.

Should we succeed there could be consequences – there are companies that depend on food waste. There’s one producing fuel from fatbergs for example.

But remember – legislation can be a 100% market creator.

[Session Notes]