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Tackling Food Waste

In our recent Future Foods announcement we pledged globally to halve food waste across our operations by 2025 – five years ahead of the UN’s SDG 2030 target. Our accelerated plan of action is fuelled by the urgency of what is not only a humanitarian but also an environmental and economic crisis.

The cost of food waste

  • 4.5 million tonnes of food is wasted in the UK every year
  • If we all simply stopped wasting bread at home in the UK for a year, it could have the same effect on greenhouse gas emissions as planting 5.3 million trees
  • If food waste was a country it would be the third biggest source of Green House Gases (GHGs)

Our fight on food waste

Our ambition is to drive wide-reaching change beyond the boundaries of our business and to tackle food loss and waste across the food chain – from factory to fork.

In the UK & Ireland, we were a founding signatory of The Courtauld 2025 Commitment which brings together over ninety organisations to make food and drink production and consumption more sustainable for the future. All signatories have committed to a collective ten-year target to cut the carbon and waste associated with food & drink.

To progress towards The Courtauld 2025 Commitment, as well as Unilever’s global food waste reduction roadmap, we’re taking action across our supply chain to reduce the waste associated with making our products, as well as using our brands and external voice to reduce waste in households and the hospitality industry.

How we're tackling food waste at Unilever

Read more about how we’re tackling food waste in the UK & Ireland

1. Creating a love for leftovers

Image shows Gnocchi on a plate next to a tub of Hellmann’s Vegan Mayo

We know that 16% of food UK households purchase goes to waste, with 38 million wheelie bins of food binned each year. As well as our commitment to reduce waste across our own operations, we know that helping shoppers to reduce the food waste at home is really important too.

That’s why our Hellmann’s team are on a longstanding mission to reduce food waste by inspiring a love for leftovers and helping people to understand the action they can take to be more resourceful with their food.

By partnering with organisations such as WRAP for their Food Waste Action Week campaign and food waste app Olio, Hellmann’s is committed to raising awareness of the issues as well as giving people the knowledge and tools to reduce food waste in their homes.

Recently Hellmann’s partnered with Channel 4 to commission a new food waste series ‘Cook Clever, Waste Less’, the first branded sustainability focused entertainment show of its kind, bringing Hellmann’s and their food waste mission to the homes of millions of people across the UK. The series helped raise nationwide awareness of the impact food waste has on our planet as well as inspiring the behavior change and action needed to tackle the issue at scale.

Image shows Hellmann’s Food Waste Hacks handbook

To help more people kickstart their own food waste mission, Hellmann’s has created a free ‘Food Waste Hacks’ handbook. The handbook includes the basics for reducing food waste as well as some easy kitchen hacks, such as batch cooking and meal planning tips, with some exclusive recipes developed by Dr Rupy Aujla which use Hellmann’s mayonnaise to transform the most wasted foods in the UK into delicious meals.

2. Redistribution and re-use at our factories

Image shows two people in a factory holding Unilever products

Food production can result in excess that often goes to waste. We are working hard across our operations to ensure circular processes that avoid any good food being destroyed.

In the UK, we use WRAP’s Food Waste Reduction Roadmap to consistently measure and report our food waste in our operations. We follow the principles of the food waste hierarchy to ensure we are reducing our food waste in a way that is most beneficial for people and planet.

Over 200 tonnes of food from our UK factories was redistributed to feeding people in 2020.

Wherever possible we redistribute our food products, that cannot be distributed through usual retail channels, through our charity partner networks to help address the issue of food poverty in the UK and support those in need to access food and meals.

One of our partners, Community Shop, is a social enterprise supporting local communities by giving people access to support, development and learning opportunities, and access to deeply discounted food. Another partner, FareShare, saves surplus food from going to waste by redistributing it to charities who turn it into meals.

If not possible to redistribute our food waste via our charity partners, it is used to feed animals or to power our factories.

Last year over half of the food waste from our factories in the UK was used to power our factories or the national grid and more than 12,000 tonnes of food across our UK factories was sent to feed animals.

The remainder of our food waste that cannot be redistributed to people, used to feed animals, or re-used to power our factories, is either used for industrial composting or for land application where it is used as fertiliser, or it goes to incineration with energy capture.

3. Helping professional kitchens to ‘Wise Up On Waste’

Image shows someone’s hands cutting mushrooms with tomatoes and peppers on the side

Waste in the food service industry, in venues such as restaurants, hotels and cafés, can be as high as 50%. But the huge food turnover in these professional kitchens means it is not always easy to see what is being wasted… or why.

Since 2011, Unilever Food Solutions in the UK & Ireland has been working with chefs to help them cut food waste in the foodservice and hospitality industry, helping them to understand the social, environmental, and economic importance of reducing waste in their kitchens.

As well as providing top tips to help chefs reduce kitchen waste, we’ve designed and developed our Wise Up On Waste tool with a simple mission: to help chefs measure how much food their kitchen is wasting. We believe that this is the simple but key starting point to making a change and reducing food waste.

The free web-based tool enables chefs to record and track their food waste, helping them identify problem areas and use this information to take action. On average, when the tool is used regularly, chefs and kitchens reduce food preparation and food plate waste by an average of 15 - 20%.

Find out more about how Unilever is addressing food loss globally through innovation and collaboration here.