Future trends in resource efficiency and waste generation in the food chain

Start date:
June 2009
January 2010

Defra commissioned Brook Lyndhurst, with support from an expert panel, to carry out a scoping study to explore the key influences affecting future trends in waste and resource efficiency in the food chain. The research took the form of a scenario planning exercise, exploring a range of possible future trends over the next decade, their impacts on the behaviour of the food chain, and the resulting waste, water use and GHG implications.

To meet the above objectives, the following research, analysis and reporting was done:

  • Defining key terms. The food chain was broken down into 9 links (Primary production; Manufacturing and processing; Transport and storage; Wholesale; Retail; Consumers; Public procurement; Foodservice sector; Waste disposal and treatment).
  • Rapid review of key literature sources on the UK food chain to draw up a long-list of drivers that influence waste, greenhouse gas emissions and also water use in the food chain.
  • Mind map of the long-list of drivers into a framework to provide a structure for our research and analysis.
  • Detailed literature review, focused around the mind map topics and culminating in a set of nine documents: one for each stage of the food chain, describing the characteristics of that stage, its waste, emissions and water use profile, and the key drivers influencing the behaviour of the actors at that stage. These documents were used to develop an understanding of how the drivers influence the food chain’s behaviour, and to draw out 'pointers' to emerging future trends.
  • The 'pointers' were grouped into categories, which formed our long-list of possible future trends which could have an impact on the food chain.
  • The long-list of trends was prioritised by an expert panel according to their likelihood and their potential impact on the food chain’s behaviour, resulting in a list of 12 key future trends selected for detailed investigation.
  • A grid was created with the nine stages plotted against twelve drivers and three degrees of resilience. This resulted in over 300 mini-scenarios, each of which looked at a particular stage under a particular trend and a particular response by the actors at that stage.
  • Identification of stage-specific implications for waste, greenhouse gas emissions and water, on an indicative seven-point scale from ‘large reduction’ through to ‘large increase’ for each of the 300+ mini-scenarios.
  • A stakeholder survey about the impact of the 12 key trends on the food chain as a whole to cross-check our work and to gain an understanding of how food chain stakeholders view the future.
  • Analysis of the mini-scenarios to identify key future risks and opportunities.

Outputs were the set of nine reports - each focusing on a stage of the food chain, identifying key future risks and opportunities with regard to waste generation, greenhouse gas emissions and water use - and a summary report, bringing together key themes across the food chain.

The report raised some issues for further consideration, not least that there is a lack of consistent and transparent data on the environmental impacts of the food chain, and a priority is to improve the evidence base and introduce mandatory reporting of impacts. Other food for thought around improving resource efficiency and waste generation in the food chain included:

  • Effective pricing of environmental impacts
  • Encouraging a culture change around the way food is valued
  • Ensuring seamless joint working between and within sectors
  • Altering incentives so that waste is valued for its embedded resources
  • Improving skills throughout the food chain, both for those working in the industry, and consumers
  • Building on existing policy to improve the environmental performance of the food chain
  • Ensuring that the food industry is diverse and fair
  • Supporting the food chain in adapting to emerging pressures
  • Making use of technology to reduce the environmental impacts of food production

The summary report is available below the project team (on the right). There are nine supplementary reports on the different stages of the production-consumption chain. Each provides an analysis of the patterns that emerged from the complexity of the mini-scenarios:

  1. Primary production
  2. Manufacturing and processing
  3. Transport and storage
  4. Wholesale
  5. Retail
  6. Consumers
  7. Public procurement
  8. Foodservice sector
  9. Waste disposal and treatment

These supplementary reports are available on request from: adminteam@defra.gsi.gov.uk


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