92,000 tonnes of surplus food – equivalent to 220 million meals and worth £280 million – were donated to people in need during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown in 2020, a report by UK sustainability charity WRAP has found.
Food businesses working with charities and commercial redistributors have been donating their surplus food rather than throwing it away.
WRAP’s report has found a 65% tonnage increase in redistributed food between 2018 and 2020, an additional 36,000 tonnes a year, worth over £110 million and the equivalent of 86 million meals.
70% of the total excess food in 2020 was redistributed through a charitable programme – a 30% increase compared to data from 2015.
The amount of produce handled by charities has also increased more than five times in five years, compared with a 66% increase for the commercial sector.
Since 2018, the retail industry has donated 55% (13,700 tonnes) more surplus food, manufacturers an extra 38% (9,800 tonnes), whilst the surplus from the hospitality and food service has seen a 340% increase (3,600 tonnes). Farms have also increased the donation of their excess produce.
Overall, between 2015, when food redistribution data was reported for the first time, and 2020, food handouts have tripled. 32,000 tonnes of food worth £970 million were redistributed, equivalent to more than three quarters of a billion meals (760,000,000).
The Trussell Trust reports that record numbers of people have used food banks during the pandemic.
In 2020 38% of redistributed surplus food was directly linked to the disruption to the supply chain due to COVID-19, whilst 62% was due to food businesses and the redistribution sector being able to handle larger amounts of excess produce.
The increase of food redistribution was also facilitated by grants funded by Defra.
Under two Defra schemes – the COVID-19 Emergency Surplus Food Grant to not-for-profit organisations in England, and the Resource Action Fund Food Waste Prevention Grants to small – and large – scale projects in England – WRAP handed out just under £7 million to redistribution organisations in England.
FareShare, the UK’s largest redistribution charity working with supermarkets like Tesco and Asda to help them donate their excess produce, received £900,000 in grants and doubled the amount of food it delivered during the pandemic across 16 regions in England.
Defra’s Food Waste Champion Ben Elliot commented: “These new statistics show significant progress in redistributing more surplus food to those who need it. This is an amazing trend that I urge everyone to help continue in the future.
“Defra supported this effort with over £11m of grant aid to redistributors including £3.8m in Emergency Surplus Food Grants, to support redistributors during the Coronavirus response.
“I encourage all businesses and organisations to work with redistributors and to get more surplus food identified and redistributed.”