NFWI Resolutions Shortlist 2016 – Resolution Number 7: Avoid food waste, address food poverty

In the penultimate NFWI resolution to be presented to Sotonettes members for ballot, the allocation of surplus food from supermarkets is discussed.


Sotonettes members are entitled to vote on this issue; for more information, click here, or download a handy booklet here. Or visit our Facebook page!

“The WI calls on all supermarkets to sign up to a voluntary agreement to avoid food waste, thereby passing surplus food onto charities thus helping to address the issue of increasing food poverty in the UK.”

Proposer’s position

The proposer is concerned by the amount of edible food that is thrown away by supermarkets annually, especially in light of the growing numbers of people struggling to afford food, as well as the environmental consequences of food waste. The proposer’s intention is reduce food waste by supermarkets by encouraging them to redistribute surplus, usable food to charities and food banks. This would have the twin benefits of alleviating the growing problem of food poverty in the UK, as well as reducing the environmental footprint of wasted food production.

Outline of the issue

It is estimated that around 200,000 tonnes of edible surplus food is thrown away by supermarkets annually. Only two per cent of this is being collected and redistributed (with the remaining 98% turned into compost or energy, or disposed of in a landfill) – an amount that the House of Commons Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee classed as “pitifully small” in its 2015 report.[1] It is currently cheaper for retailers to dispose of food by anaerobic digestion or animal food as opposed to redistribution of food surpluses to charity, leading to a distortion in the waste management hierarchy.[2]

In its Feeding Britain report, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger and Food Poverty found that doubling this redistribution (which would still be only 4% of usable food) would save the voluntary sector £160 million over the course of this Parliament.[2] Most of the food that is currently distributed by the Trussell Trust has been donated by consumers – largely through collections at schools, churches and supermarkets-not supermarkets.[3]

The Department of Health defines food poverty as “the inability to afford, or to have access to, food to make up a healthy diet.”[4] The Trussell Trust estimates that from 2012-2013 they fed almost 350,000 people through their food banks (a significant increase from 128,000 of the previous 12 months).[5] Research by the Trussell Trust, FareShare and Tesco found that: 18% of people in the UK have suffered from some form of food poverty (including skipping meals, parents going without food to feed their children or relying on family or friends to provide food), and this rises to 21% for households with children; more than 80% of parents in food poverty worry that they will struggle to provide nutritious food for their children in the near future; and only a third of people currently suffering from food poverty expected their situation to improve in the coming year.[6]

From 2012-2013 WRAP examined the role that surplus food redistribution by supermarkets could have in the overall food waste reduction strategy, and in particular looked at possible barriers and potential solutions to food redistribution. The research found that while the tonnages of surplus food available in a store are small compared to whole supply chain, these volumes are still significant enough to have a measurable benefit to those in need. Additionally, it found significant barriers to delivering redistribution on a nationwide scale due to capacity and resource limitations within both charities and retailers.[7]

In the UK, there have been a number of voluntary initiatives between supermarkets and organisations to cut down on food waste by retailers. For instance, Tesco has recently introduced a new app for store managers to alert local charities to surplus food available for collection at the end of the day which it is piloting in 10 stores.[8] Tesco is also the only supermarket to publish its own independently assessed food waste data. Its most recent data (2014-2015) showed that while it had reduced the amount of food that it had thrown away (to 1%), it still had some way to go on food redistribution as 30,000 tonnes of that 55,400 tonnes was food that could otherwise have been eaten.[9] [10]

WRAP, in consultation with the retail industry amongst others, is currently developing the fourth Courtauld Commitment: Courtauld 2025 – a resource efficiency and waste reduction initiative.  Most of these initiatives however look at system-wide food waste reduction, with businesses sharing efficiency savings along supply chains, wasting less, and getting more value from unavoidable waste. Courtauld 2025 focuses on four themes: changing what we supply, changing how we supply, changing how we consume, and changing what we do with the waste and by-products throughout the life-cycle.[11] Food waste has not only an economic cost, but also an environmental one.  This is through the energy and resources used to produce the food, as well as the carbon emissions from transportation and methane emissions from landfill.

Arguments for the resolution

  • While food has been a longstanding concern for the WI, the NFWI has no mandate to address food poverty. This resolution would empower the NFWI nationally and WI members locally to lead on reducing food poverty.
  • In this current economic climate, we cannot afford to continue such wasteful practices where good food is wasted, families go hungry, and the environment suffers. Now may be the time for the WI to add its voice to those calling for innovation in not only how we eat food, but how we dispose of our food.
  • This resolution harkens back to the WI’s historic roots in food production and feeding the nation – it would be a fitting resolution to carry us into our second century.

Arguments against the resolution

  • The WI has already done significant work on food waste. Additionally, while national work on food poverty has not been possible due to a lack of mandate, a number of WIs have been working locally to support food banks. Is a national mandate necessary?
  • Is the voluntary approach that this resolution calls for the best approach? Consumers, advocates, and charities have already tried to voluntarily persuade supermarkets to address food waste, thus far with limited success. Should the WI call for legislative or mandatory action on this issue instead?

Groups to contact for further information


Second Floor, Blenheim Court, 19 George Street, Banbury OX16 5BH

Twitter logo v small@WRAP_UK



Unit 7 Deptford Trading Estate, Blackhorse Road, London SE8 5HY

Tel : 020 7394 2468

Twitter logo v small@FareShareUK


The Trussell Trust

Unit 9 Ashfield Trading Estate, Ashfield Rd, Salisbury, SP2 7HL

Tel:  01722 580 180

Twitter logo v small@TrussellTrust



[1] Food security DEFRA committee 2015

[2] Feeding Britain, 2014

[3] Food banks and food poverty, 2014.

[4] DH Choosing a better diet: a food and health action plan, 2005 – quoted in Ibid.

[5] Food banks and food poverty, 2014.




[9] ‘Food Waste’