Britain votes to Brexit: What next for food waste?

Written by: Philip Simpson | Published:
Philip Simpson, commercial director at ReFood

Following the vote to leave the EU, Philip Simpson, commercial director at ReFood, outlines what this decision means for the UK's food waste industry.

The biggest political question posed to Britain in a generation has been answered – the UK will officially leave the European Union. Although unexpected by many critics, this decision represents a momentous opportunity for the UK government to affirm its commitment to tackling food waste.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Brexit is that the British government now has the autonomy to set its own waste recycling targets. Previously, all UK legislation was voluntary, with Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland choosing to introduce laws that made the separation and recycling of food waste mandatory. England, however, left it to individual local authorities to implement their own initiatives. This saw widespread disparity in commitment to food waste recycling, with many local authorities choosing not to get provide collection services for homeowners or businesses.

Unfortunately, this is a short-sighted approach and fails to capitalise on the significant economic and sustainable benefits of food waste recycling.

In fact, the UK currently produces more than 14m tonnes of food waste every year, which, if it were effectively tackled, could see savings of £19bn for the country’s economy and prevent more than 20m tonnes of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere.

Food waste is a valuable resource and one that we shouldn’t squander. If the UK achieved zero waste to landfill by 2020, the country could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 27m tonnes and produce more than 1.1TWh of renewable energy.

So, let’s use Brexit as a springboard for introducing a total ban on food waste to landfill in England. Free from the shackles of EU red-tape, DEFRA has a critical role to play in setting such targets and can help Britain to implement waste management laws at a far greater speed – tailored with the country’s needs firmly in mind.

What’s more, it has been estimated that Britain’s membership of the EU costs upwards of £350m per week. With those savings alone, an exit from the EU could see increases in funding for Britain’s sustainability industry – including food waste management schemes.

While there is a long road ahead, the Brexit vote is a huge moment for the UK’s waste management sector. Looking ahead, it’s important that we continue to work towards not only achieving, but exceeding, the sustainability targets originally laid-out by the EU. The sector has a pivotal role to play in Britain’s post-Brexit landscape, and I hope to see us grab this opportunity with both hands.

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