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Repurpose, reuse, recycle – no food goes to waste

woman holds a child picking limes from a basket

We have an ethical responsibility to make sure we are not wasting food. People need food now more than ever, so we'd be remiss not to be looking at food waste.

This is the motto from Sarah Peck, a procurement specialist here at Nestlé UK and Ireland, whose role is to look after facilities and waste management. 

UK households and businesses produce around 9.5 million tonnes of food waste a year, which has a value of more than £19 billion. Of this edible waste, more than 15 billion meals could have been made.

This is why Sarah and her colleague Luke Fitzsimmons, a safety, health and environment advisor, have started a project to partner with food surplus re-use specialists Company Shop, Wonki Collective, Sweet Dreams  and SugaRich, to make sure all food waste can be utilised from the  factories.

We spoke to Sarah and Luke to find out more about this, and other work being done in the UK and Ireland to tackle food waste.

How does the new project work?

At a factory we might have raw ingredients, a work in progress by-product or finished goods, which could go out of date before we can use it and it would go to waste. Working with this set of organisations, we are able to maximise on the ability to redistribute all factory surplus. This helps increase commercial return, keep as much product as possible in the human food chain and minimise food waste.

We have even started to identify where we have processed an ingredient, for example, praline, and if we don’t use it in a specified amount of time, in the past this would have gone to waste. Now, if we identify we aren’t going to be able to use it, we keep it food safe and send it to a central location, organised by the supplier collaboration, to be used elsewhere by another food manufacture.

It's the right thing to be doing, morally, ethically and sustainably.

But tracking waste from the factories isn’t a new thing.

About seven years ago we started a campaign in our UK factories called “Waste Not, Want Not”. We went to every factory and walked the lines to see where waste was being created. We started to map where we could improve processes. We asked ourselves could more be recycled, could some of the waste food be redistributed.

We now have a process to redistribute when a product isn’t perfect and perhaps can’t be sold to our usual customers. For example, when the packaging is wrong or not covered the product properly, or a KitKat which has got stuck to another bar, or something isn’t the standard shape. All these are perfectly edible, we don’t want this going to waste so it goes to a surplus seller.

But it’s not just about making the waste into edible products. By-products of the coffee and pet food can still be used in a meaningful way. 

At our factory in Tutbury, 50,000 tonnes of used coffee grounds are used every year to create steam that helps power the factory.

Tutbury factory sustainability

We also have a project to look at inedible products and whether it can be used for spreading on land as fertiliser or anaerobic digestion. We have zero waste to landfill since 2014 and reduced the amount of food waste generated per production tonnage by 53% since 2016, which is great news.

It is important for Nestlé, as the world’s largest food manufacturer, that we set an example on food waste. It is difficult, but it's an area that I have so much passion about. With the country suffering from particularly high food poverty and food insecurity rates at the moment, I feel like we've got a moral imperative to focus on this, and to try and get as much food as we can to people who need it, because we'd be remiss not to.