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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, December 15, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 15 December 2016

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Edinburgh World Heritage Site, Point of Order, Draft Budget 2017-18, Food Waste, Scottish Land Commissioners and Tenant Farming Commissioner (Appointment), Business Motion, Presiding Officer’s Ruling, Decision Time


Food Waste

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-03102, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on delivering Scotland’s food waste target. In the open debate members will have four minutes for speeches, but there is a little time in hand to make up for interventions.


The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham)

I am pleased to open the debate, which has been shrinking as the weeks have gone by. I notice that it is now even shorter than it was intended to be. However, I hope that we have a good debate on the problem of tackling food waste.

The Government’s aspiration is that Scotland becomes a good food nation—a country in which people from every walk of life take pride and pleasure in and benefit from the food that they produce, buy, serve and eat day by day. The Scottish Government is developing a holistic approach to food, covering how we minimise diet-related disease and raise healthy life expectancy; how we deliver fairer outcomes to Scotland’s most deprived communities, where disease, food poverty and hunger hit hardest; how we grow the food and drink industry; and, of course, how we improve resource efficiency and, crucially, reduce the amount of food that is wasted.

Zero Waste Scotland estimated that, in 2013, we wasted 1.35 million tonnes of food in Scotland. That waste arose in households, manufacturing, hospitality, retail, education, health and social care, and wholesale operations. We know that there is also a significant loss of food on farms, although that is more difficult to measure.

The Scottish Government has set a target to reduce total food waste by 33 per cent by 2025. We have aligned our ambition with that of the United Nations, and our target will put us on track to deliver the UN sustainable development goal of reducing food waste by 50 per cent by 2030. We set a target because we wanted to focus action all along the supply chain from farm to plate.

In identifying actions to reduce food waste, we will prioritise initiatives and deliver outcomes on health, food poverty, actions that support our food and drink industry and actions that reduce emissions. Fergus Ewing, who is responsible for food and drink as part of his rural economy portfolio, and I will work together closely on proposals for a good food nation bill, which the First Minister announced to Parliament in September.

The worst thing that can happen with food waste is that it is sent to landfill, where it creates harmful methane gas. Our landfill ban means that no biodegradable municipal waste can be sent to landfill after 2020. Our waste regulations place a statutory duty on councils to provide food waste collections in all but the most rural areas and a similar requirement applies to all businesses that produce more than 5kg of food per week. Once local authorities and businesses have collected food waste, they cannot send it for incineration or to landfill—it must be recycled.

The Scottish Government has invested more than £25 million in food waste collection since 2011, and 80 per cent of all households now have access to a food waste service. We intend to review the derogation for rural areas to ensure that we capture and deal with as much food waste as possible. We are making good progress in our efforts to keep food waste out of landfill. The United Kingdom Committee on Climate Change recognises that Scotland’s emissions from waste have reduced by 77 per cent from 1990, and we will continue those efforts as part of our climate change plan.

Food waste that has been collected from households and businesses is able to be used in anaerobic digestion to generate heat and produce digestate. Our waste regulations have helped the anaerobic digestion sector to grow in Scotland and we will continue to support it. However, the real prize is to avoid food ending up as waste in the first place, and that is what Scotland’s new food waste target is intended to achieve. I am afraid that the Labour Party appears to have missed that point. We are not starting from scratch. Between 2009 and 2014, the amount of food that we wasted at home fell by 5.7 per cent, which has saved households approximately £92 million.

I will outline some of the initiatives that have helped us to deliver reductions thus far and on which we can build in meeting the new ambitious target. For consumers, the love food, hate waste campaign provides simple solutions to help people to reduce waste and save money at home by planning meals, using up leftovers, portioning, storing food correctly to keep it fresher for longer, freezing and understanding date labels. At this time of year, that is probably one of the most germane things for us to discuss.

The good to go doggy-bag scheme now covers 100 restaurants, with the aim of reducing food waste and bringing about a shift in our culture with regard to food waste. During the pilot phase of good to go, a 40 per cent reduction was reported in the waste from restaurants that participated in the pilot.

We fund the Courtauld commitment, which is a voluntary scheme supported by Administrations across the UK that aims to reduce to food waste by 20 per cent between 2009 and 2025. Our flagship resource efficient Scotland—RES—service provides free food and drink waste audits to help businesses to cut their waste costs and reduce their carbon footprint. RES is working with NHS Tayside to trial a new catering software system that has the potential to improve efficiency and reduce costs. Zero Waste Scotland is working with small and medium-sized enterprises—10 bakeries and five breweries—to offer in-depth food waste support and create examples of best practice and guidance for the bakery sector. This morning, I visited the Breadwinner Bakery in South Gyle in Edinburgh, which is a great example of a family food business that is thinking hard about how to avoid food waste. Approximately 20 per cent of the bread that would otherwise be wasted in production is given to charity; a further 20 per cent goes to a bio company that makes animal feed; and approximately 50 per cent is donated to a local organic pig farm.

I am sure that members will be interested in the collaboration that is taking place between Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, Glasgow City Council, Scottish Enterprise and Zero Waste Scotland, in a project that is piloting an approach to transforming the 200,000 slices of bread that are wasted in Glasgow every day into beer, to minimise the resources that are used in the brewing process and to reduce food waste. Far be it from me to say that there are members in this chamber who probably think that that is a wonderful development.

Those are just a handful of the initiatives that are happening across Scotland. I know that members will have compelling examples to share from their constituencies. We want good practice to be extended.

Members should make no mistake; our ambition is significant. Our target is one of the most ambitious of its kind in Europe and beyond, and in due course we will consult on whether it should be voluntary or statutory. We will need to up our game. We need to learn from our experience thus far and identify the tools that will help us to reduce the food that we waste by 33 per cent. I want to work with all stakeholders, all along the supply chain from farm to plate, to identify the best way to deliver on our ambition on food waste, in parallel with our ambition to be a good food nation.

Last week, Zero Waste Scotland organised the first of a number of cross-sectoral workshops to generate ideas and identify opportunities for sectors to work together to reduce the waste that is incurred along the supply chain. We want to reduce the amount of food that is lost before it even leaves the farm, we want to help manufacturers to avoid the costs of wasted food products, and we want to help retailers to meet customer demand, while minimising the generation of surplus food.

When surplus food arises, we want it to be redirected to those who need it. Surplus food for which humans have no other use can have a role in feeding animals, and when all other options have been exhausted it can be captured by our statutory food waste collections and used to generate energy through anaerobic digestion.

Reducing food waste is a core element of our strategy, “Making Things Last: A Circular Economy Strategy for Scotland”. The work that Zero Waste Scotland, Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency have done, in partnership with organisations in all our constituencies, to create a more circular economy in Scotland, has been recognised by the awards programme that the World Economic Forum runs in Davos—the circulars. Scotland has been shortlisted as a finalist at the circulars, alongside entries from China, Canada, the Netherlands and South Africa. We can all take pride in Scotland being recognised on the international stage in that way.

Next year, I intend to consult on the package of measures that we will need to put in place to deliver on our ambitious target. Ahead of that, I welcome all suggestions and ideas from members on action to reduce food waste. I must caution members that this debate is about preventing waste and not just recycling; the recycling element is not included in our 33 per cent target. I fear that Labour has perhaps misunderstood what this is about.

Reducing food waste is an environmental, moral and economic imperative.

I move,

That the Parliament considers that the amount of food, estimated at 1.35 million tonnes in 2013, wasted in Scotland is unacceptable; recognises that reducing food waste is a moral, environmental and economic imperative on everyone in Scotland, from consumers to manufacturers and retailers; notes that reducing food waste will also help families and businesses to save money while reducing emissions; welcomes the progress already made to reduce household and manufacturing food waste, and the Scottish Government's ambitious target to reduce food waste by 33% by 2025, and commits to Scotland showing leadership in this important area.


Peter Chapman (North East Scotland) (Con)

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests—I am a farmer.

I am pleased that the Scottish Government lodged the important motion that we are debating today. Food waste is a huge problem. It is estimated that a third of all the food that is produced across the world is wasted or spoiled. When millions are starving, that is an international scandal.

Food is wasted at every stage of production—in the fields, in store, during processing, by retailers and in the home. Wasted food is a huge waste of energy, fertiliser and water, and it contributes to climate change as it decomposes and emits greenhouse gases. Here in Scotland, food waste affects household incomes; the average family throws away hundreds of pounds-worth of food every year.

In our house, if food looks okay and smells okay, it probably is okay and I will gladly eat it. That has been my guide for years—and just look what a fine figure of a man I am. [Laughter.] That said, I am not suggesting that we should totally ignore things like best before and sell-by dates.

David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

Will the member take an intervention?

Peter Chapman

I do not have time—sorry.

A little common sense would help us to stop good food being thrown in the bin. I am sure that the whole chamber would agree that tackling excess waste must be something that we seek to deliver across party lines. Nevertheless, as a strong Opposition, we cannot and will not give this Scottish National Party Government a free pass. Although I respect that the minister spoke passionately about the importance of reducing food waste, I am concerned that not enough work is being done on the ground to deliver on these ambitious targets. Indeed, the Government will need to look closely at how it will be able to support more remote local authorities such as those in the Highlands in delivering food waste processing services while adhering to the key principles of waste management.

In the most remote communities, dealing with waste product as close to the point of production as possible will pose the greatest challenge. Looking at the sheer volume of food waste, we see the scale of the challenge. The recent report “How much food and drink waste is there in Scotland?”, which was published just last month, gives us a stark insight into the task that the Government must take on—600,000 tonnes of food and drink waste from households, 740,000 tonnes from commercial and industrial premises, 510,000 tonnes from food and drink manufacturing and another 200,000 tonnes from other sources adds up to a colossal 2 million tonnes annually. That is a staggering amount.

That is why I welcome the Government’s ambition. However, it is clear that ambition does not necessarily equal successful delivery. To deliver on the target of no food waste going to landfill in five years, as the SNP plans to do, seems extremely ambitious. I wonder whether it is realistic. One has to wonder—did 2021 come out of thin air or did it come from a reasoned plan with practical means of delivery? Considering that there are parts of the country that do not yet even recycle food waste, it would be remiss of me if I did not remark on the minister’s bravery in committing to the target.

There will be ways to improve the food waste figures; there is no doubt about that. For starters, more could certainly be done at the beginning of the food production chain. More work must be done to utilise imperfect—but very edible—fruit and vegetables. Growing food is not a perfect science and the most talented farmer will always have fruit and vegetables that are not perfect in every way. We need to find a way to get more of those less-than-perfect fruit and vegetables into consumers’ shopping trolleys.

I speak from experience when I say that food intended for folk can be—and is—consumed by livestock, usually with a lot less griping about how it looks. That is, however, an expensive second-best option for the grower. If a farmer can sell a tonne of tatties for £200 to a retailer, that same tonne of product—if it does not meet specifications—is worth something in the region of £15 for stock feed. The result of that difference is that whole fields of vegetables can be wasted, because the price offered is less than the cost of picking them.

That said, proposals that are under consideration by the United Kingdom Government, whereby retailers would buy a full crop and then make best use of the produce, would have multiple benefits. Not only would that reduce the potential for food waste, but it would offer farmers far greater certainty in their incomes. My concern is that that sensible step may be too difficult to implement on the ground.

Of course, this debate is not just about the waste that we produce. We need to get smarter when it comes to processing the waste that we create. We need a long-term, sustainable way to manage the treatment of food waste, for which we need to see political leadership from the SNP. The Government needs to look at all the options, whether that is anaerobic digestion plants, feeding more to livestock, composting or using food waste for heat. We also need a Government here in Scotland that recognises the challenge that is faced by local authorities, which are already tied into waste management contracts—sometimes for up to 25 years.

Certainly, more needs to be done to educate people to prevent food waste in households from happening in the first place. That will require more education about people buying only what they need, which would also help hard-working families make ends meet.

I have spoken about how farmers, and indeed everyone, can contribute to reducing food waste and I am certain that my colleagues and I will always look at practical, deliverable proposals to reduce that waste. This is a fight that we need to tackle for the sake of our planet.

I move amendment S4M-03102.1, to leave out from “in this important area” to end and insert:

“and developing innovative solutions in this important area as part of Scotland’s journey towards a circular economy.”


Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

Scottish Labour is positive about supporting the Scottish Government motion and the Tory amendment. Given that the cabinet secretary suggested that there was a question mark over our amendment, I would like to explain that we are supportive of the Scottish Government’s intention to cut food waste by a third by 2025, but we think that the food waste that it is not possible to cut should not go to landfill. That is why we included in our amendment an interim measure to ensure that food waste does not go to landfill. Our proposal covers the range of other possibilities. We are asking the Scottish Government to consider our proposed target of recycling 100 per cent of food waste by 2020. Our definition of recycling is quite broad, and I am sure that Maurice Golden will have something to say about that.

Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Con)

When Claudia Beamish talks about the recycling of food waste, does she include composting, in-vessel composting and anaerobic digestion? In other words, does the proposal in Labour’s amendment cover anything other than disposal or prevention?

Claudia Beamish

I thank the member for that intervention, and I am happy to clarify that that is indeed our position.

I see that the cabinet secretary now wants to intervene.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

You will get your time back, Ms Beamish.

Roseanna Cunningham

I am curious to know what advice was taken when Labour drafted its amendment, because I have had direct advice from Zero Waste Scotland that Labour’s proposal is unachievable.

Claudia Beamish

I have looked, along with colleagues, at the range of options that exist. I have said that it is a proposed target, which would be open to discussion. That is where we are.

We need a new approach to food and food waste in Scotland. As I said, we support the Scottish Government’s motion. We certainly support the statement that

“reducing food waste is a moral, environmental and economic imperative on everyone in Scotland”.

Food is a fundamental human necessity, but it is much more than that—it is an intrinsic part of our culture, our society and our wellbeing.

Food poverty in Scotland—and anywhere else in the world where it exists—is our shame. Here at home, it is a rising and unacceptable problem. In 2014-15, the Trussell Trust provided 117,689 people in Scotland with emergency food aid. Members will know that that is only a small snapshot of food insecurity. When confronted with those realities, the crime of food wastage becomes all the more apparent.

The Scottish Government is right to have ambitious targets for food and drink exports, but Scottish Labour is concerned about the proposed cut of £2.9 million in Zero Waste Scotland’s budget. How can the cabinet secretary square that with the challenges that we face on food waste reduction? Perhaps she can address that in her closing remarks.

More must be done to tackle the uneconomical, unjust and unenvironmental practice of food wastage. It will take behaviour change, and households must be provided with proper information on recycling in their area. That is a challenge for not just the Scottish Government but local authorities. There are many ways in which individuals can make an impact, some of which the cabinet secretary highlighted.

There are a couple of other ways of making an impact, including using food that is past its sell-by date. I am not sure that I would do that, although my partner and I always have a debate about it. Proper understanding of how to store and freeze types of food is also important. All such actions are steps towards the circular economy that is referred to in the Tory amendment, which we will support. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has identified the circular economy making a global saving of £1.3 trillion a year. In Scotland, avoidable food and drink waste costs households £1.1 billion a year.

As one of the sponsors of the annual success that is the Holyrood apple day, I want to use fruit as a proxy for other forms of creativity with surplus fresh supplies. In my region, the Clyde valley orchards co-operative has been formed, which involves members of the community and orchard owners making apple juice from regenerated orchards rather than leaving apples to rot. Food can also be used to inspire social benefits. For example, there is a social enterprise in Edinburgh called Fruitful Woods, which gets people who are experiencing mental illness involved in outdoor orchard activity, including pressing apples. The initiative is funded by products that are made from surplus apples and demonstrates—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I ask the member to wind up, as I have given her an extra minute.

Claudia Beamish

It demonstrates the huge impact that would be lost if that fruit was left to rot on the ground. I ask the cabinet secretary to consider further support for community and co-operative activity on food waste.

I move amendment S5M-03102.2, to insert at end:

“; asks the Scottish Government to assess the possibility of a target of recycling 100% of food waste by 2020; commits to Scotland showing leadership in this important area, which can also contribute to reducing food poverty, and calls on the Scottish Government to continue to support the excellent work of community food groups.”


Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

First, I inform members—as I believe we have to do on these occasions—that I am the parliamentary liaison officer to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform.

As the MSP for Aberdeenshire East, which includes the town of New Deer, I am delighted to speak in a debate on food waste, as New Deer is a major Scottish hub for the recycling of food waste, with Keenan Recycling there handling 50 per cent of Scotland’s food waste. That amounts to 50,000 tonnes of food waste per annum, of which 30,000 tonnes is collected from restaurants and other food outlets. Keenan’s turns the vast proportion of the food waste tonnage that it receives into British Standards Institution-approved agricultural compost. That compost, as well as being a means of reusing food waste instead of sending it to landfill, fulfils a dual environmental protection purpose by replacing chemical fertilisers in maintaining the fertility of the farmland soil that is used to grow our food. Keenan’s also converts food waste into clean biofuel for anaerobic digestion plants that produce electricity or gas for the public grid. The company has acquired a site at Linwood, in my friend Tom Arthur’s constituency of Renfrewshire South, and plans to mirror there the state-of-the-art facility in New Deer, which will more than double the capacity for biofuel.

A Scottish Government initiative launched in January 2016 stipulated that any food outlet producing more than 5kg of food waste per week must segregate it from other waste and have it collected, which improved on the previously stipulated threshold of 50kg for food waste. During a visit to Keenan’s recycling centre earlier this year, I spoke to the managing director, Grant Keenan, who informed me of the amount of food waste that is recycled from small food outlets, bringing their practice into line with that of larger food outlets and improving further the level and quality of the food waste that is recycled into the products that I have described.

I want to highlight the good work of Zero Waste Scotland in the area of food waste education. Of course, the number 1 priority in all waste management is to completely eliminate waste in the first place. The cabinet secretary mentioned the good to go trial that encouraged restaurants to offer doggy bags to customers to take home leftovers of food that had not been eaten. The trial has been highly successful and might change our culture with regard to customers asking to take leftovers home because, for some reason, we have been a wee bit reluctant to do that.

Talking about cultural changes, I have found that having a food waste bin in my home and a local authority food waste collection service has increased my family’s awareness of the amount of food waste that we generate. Aberdeenshire Council has taken a number of measures to reduce food waste and to improve our behaviours around food buying, storage, segregation and recycling. It might have taken my generation a wee while to get used to segregating and recycling food waste, but it is already second nature to my children, who do it without thinking at home, school and college. Through education around minimising food waste, we will make those good habits second nature for us, too.

Such behaviours, when encouraged at national and local government levels and hugely assisted by programmes such as those that Zero Waste Scotland promotes, are the reason why we have a very good chance of meeting our food waste reduction targets by 2025. With households, businesses and the public sector carefully segregating what we still produce, we can ensure that our food waste ends up being useful rather than being sent, as it has been historically, to landfill.


Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

There seems to be a fashion for making declarations at the moment. I am not going to declare that I am a farmer, because I do not farm rubbish and nor am I a rubbish farmer. What I would like to do, though, is to take the debate to a much more local level and talk about why the Highlands are different from most of Scotland—not just because the Highlands are the best place to live and work, but because we deal with waste in a completely different way.

Those members who have listened to that statement will know that it is true in all but one respect: there are 27,000 houses in Inverness whose food waste is dealt with in the same way as that in the rest of Scotland, through kerbside collections—it is estimated that some 1,700 tonnes of food waste are collected per annum. What happens to the rest of the food waste in the Highlands? I am not sure that my investigations have proved that anyone can really tell us.

Perhaps we should look at the size of the problem. Figures suggest that each household in the Highlands generates about 150kg of food waste a year. If we scale that up for the Highlands as a whole, there will be some 16,000 to 17,000 tonnes of food waste annually. To complete the maths—for those who need it—we are capturing only 10 per cent of the food waste that is produced in the Highlands; another 90 per cent is to be collected.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that food waste is composted. Highland Council’s calculations suggest that, between 2001 and 2010, 41,236 compost bins were distributed. However, demand peaked in 2006-07 and there has been a rapid decline in demand since. Even if it could be assumed that all the units that were supplied by Highland Council were still being used—which would be false—we would have a long way to go to achieve zero biodegradable waste going to landfill by the end of 2020.

The question must be how the Government thinks it will be possible to achieve the very laudable target that it has set if it ignores the Highlands or does not treat them differently. Saying that we are the same as the central belt, with its large urban conurbations where waste collection is simple, is too easy. As many MSPs know, those conurbations are easy to move around on foot, by taking a brisk walk. It takes those of us who live in the Highlands hours to move from one side of the region to the other, and that is using an insured car. That highlights the issues.

If we look at the cost per household of collecting waste in 2014-15, we see that, excluding Stirling, it is highest in the Highlands, where it is nearly 40 per cent higher than the national average. The cost is extremely high. When I contacted Highland Council earlier this week to find out how it would deal with that, it had no idea. In fact, it had not even commissioned a waste plan for the Highlands. It appears that the problem is too big and that the DIY solutions that have been suggested, which have been used and funded in the past, are only scratching the surface and will not be fit for the future.

So what is the solution? I have to look to the Government for the answer—it is the Government’s target, so it must have a solution; or is it just a soundbite policy based on unachievable targets? I hoped that in this afternoon’s budget announcement, I would see some money set aside for this, and I would take an intervention now if anyone saw it. I did not, so I have real concerns.

As my time is up, I will conclude. The cabinet secretary must look at the Highlands differently and help us to achieve the target if it is to be a real target rather than a soundbite one.


Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the debate. The topic may seem minor to most people out there in the context of day-to-day life, but food waste quickly adds up throughout the year. As we heard from the cabinet secretary, it is estimated that Scotland throws away 1.35 million tonnes of food and drink each year, which in turn costs the public over £1 billion, or £460 per household, in unnecessary purchases. When we consider the number of people in Scotland who experience food insecurity daily, we see that those statistics are simply unacceptable.

The Scottish Government clearly acknowledges the problem and is seeking to address the issue with one of the most ambitious targets of its kind in Europe and globally: to cut food waste by a third by 2025. That would make Scotland a global front runner in food waste reduction and save at least £500 million.

We will have to tackle the problem from a variety of angles. We can take a lead from several other countries that have also taken up the fight, and we should not hesitate to look to them for inspiration. For example, France has introduced a law that forbids food waste by supermarkets and compels them to donate unused food to charities and food banks instead of throwing it away. In the UK, as we know, supermarkets donate food on a voluntary basis. They must be commended for that, but there is always room for improvement.

Other options have been explored in Scotland. For instance, as the cabinet secretary and Gillian Martin mentioned, the good to go doggy-bag programme that has been piloted at 15 restaurants across Scotland yielded significant results by allowing customers to take their unfinished meals home in compostable boxes. Such a small step had huge results. There was an average waste reduction of 42 per cent per restaurant, with about 92 per cent of surveyed customers saying that they finished the meal that they took home. That could save the equivalent of 800,000 full meals from being thrown out each year.

Reducing food waste will not only address food insecurity in Scotland but allow us to make positive environmental changes, too. Decomposing food in landfill releases methane, which is a greenhouse gas that contributes significantly to global warming—in fact, it contributes even more than carbon dioxide does. The 2020 landfill ruling is therefore very welcome. Countries such as France are taking strides in reducing food waste, and other countries such as Sweden and Norway have embraced ways of efficiently incinerating waste, using it as fuel for energy production. The household food waste from my local authority area is also used for that purpose at an incinerator in Cumbernauld, so progress is being made. If the two options are implemented together, they could make significant contributions to minimising Scotland’s carbon footprint.

My local authority—Falkirk Council—has been at the forefront of the food waste strategy since its inception, achieving some very positive results. It has made finding out how it can do better a priority, and it pushes itself to meet its ambitious aims. As it is one of the highest-performing councils, its work on reducing food waste that goes to landfill is an example of the opportunities that lie ahead.

However, this work can be done only by communities, local authorities and Government working together for the benefit of the environment. We look forward to the release next month of the report on proposals and policies 3, or the climate change plan, which I hope will help to address the issue, ensuring that a landfill ban is the ultimate goal.

The circular economy strategy has massive potential to create jobs and to help to boost the economy, but all of us need to take that on board. We all have a responsibility to look after the environment and to ensure that we have a sustainable outlook on what the future holds for Scotland as a zero waste country.

Needless to say, reaching the point of delivering zero waste to landfill will be extremely challenging, but we have opportunities in the strategies and, working together with our communities, we can ensure that Scotland delivers and achieves our targets. We must all play our part in reducing food waste by 33 per cent by 2025, but if local and national government, along with manufacturers and retailers, show leadership, we can all collectively up our game and reach our goal.


Elaine Smith (Central Scotland) (Lab)

It is shocking that we have to discuss the problems of food waste at all, given that one in nine of the world’s population are starving and increasing numbers of our own citizens are having to turn to food banks, with homeless people depending on soup kitchens week in, week out.

It is clear that the interests of big business and retail do not often reflect those of the environment or the communities that we live in. Granted, some companies do a bit to try and help the third sector to address food poverty—I will come to that later—but too many are simply concerned with their profit margins.

If supermarkets and other businesses are not willing to reform voluntarily, there might be a case for things such as the fines that happen in France, which Angus MacDonald mentioned.

The problem goes beyond that. As we know, 44 per cent of food waste comes from households and that means that habits must change, even though we have seen some advances in habits and in the figures. I put my hand up to having been guilty of not paying enough attention to food waste. I have become increasingly aware of the importance of re-using leftovers, reducing by purchasing less, and recycling the unavoidable waste. Along with education campaigns, encouraging the use of food waste bins and their weekly collection, as happens in North Lanarkshire, is a big factor in reducing avoidable household food waste and educating families about how much food they are wasting.

Councils are making good efforts and the Parliament might want to congratulate North Lanarkshire Council, which was crowned best UK performer in the environmental health category at the Association for Public Service Excellence awards for the second year in a row. However, the good work of councils will not be helped by squeezing council budgets, undervaluing refuse workers and limiting their hours. Although the Government’s greener campaign has helped, there is no doubt that more effort is needed across government to achieve transformational change in our approach to food and waste.

There are many examples of good practice in relation to community involvement and we have certainly heard about some this afternoon. In central Scotland, Lanarkshire Community Food and Health Partnership runs and supplies four community food co-ops. Based in Bargeddie, the partnership has been helping local people for 22 years and it collaborates in the fair share project. Along with selling high-quality, fresh produce at a low price and running cookery and nutrition sessions, it gets to the issues that lie at the heart of food waste and brings a community benefit with that.

In Edinburgh, there are initiatives such as the Oxgangs Neighbourhood Centre, which receives food from Marks & Spencer to use at its community cafe. That is a good example and the centre gets assistance by using Neighbourly, a social networking platform that connects local projects with people and organisations that want to help.

Of course, the Co-op has always led the way with fair trade products. It also takes part in fair share schemes and does not send its waste to landfill. Last year alone, the Co-op redistributed 30 tonnes of food, which is around 300,000 meals. Peter Chapman might be interested in the fact that it also sells so-called ugly fruit and veg in its stores.

Community organisations like those that I have mentioned believe that there is no excuse for food waste and such initiatives can help to make Scotland a zero-waste nation and take some power back from the dominance of big business.

As a socialist, I feel strongly about food justice. Its importance is summed up very well by Dave Watson from Unison, who said that, in addition to the union’s interest in staffing issues,

“We also have a wider concern to ensure that food policy contributes to a more equal society that protects our environment.”

I totally agree with that. The importance of this issue for Parliament, people and the planet cannot be overestimated.


Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

I thank the Government for this short debate. I very much hope that this is just the start of the conversation on our food culture in this session of Parliament.

Our approach to the economy, health, our local and global environment, social justice and identity are all wrapped up in food. The links between those themes will provide much of the backdrop to the debates to come on the good food nation and circular economy bills, and I urge the Scottish Government to be bold in joining up action across agendas to make real progress.

The setting earlier in the year of a target to reduce food waste was a welcome first step, framed around the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions, improve productivity in the food and drink sector and deliver financial savings to households and business. I welcome the consultation on the statutory target and the road map that is to follow.

I emphasise, however, that this is also a social justice issue. It is a fact that more than 130,000 people a year are visiting Trussell Trust food banks in Scotland while we throw away nearly 1.5 million tonnes of food. For example, enough fruit is thrown away each year to supply the equivalent of an apple to every child and teacher in Scotland every day for 18 months. That is a shocking waste of food. Contrast that with a recent survey that showed that only 6 per cent of us feel any shame in wasting food. I urge the Scottish Government to build on the moral imperative that is mentioned in the motion and ensure that the social justice implications of food waste form a strong part of its educational work.

While, so far, there has been a strong emphasis on household food waste, the majority of waste occurs before it even reaches homes or, in some cases, the farm gate. If the Government’s target is to be met, we need a better understanding of the whole supply chain and how waste can be reduced. Manufacturing is responsible for nearly half a million tonnes of food waste, and there is little evidence so far of how Government is engaging with the entire supply chain, especially at the field end.

As the cabinet secretary has already mentioned, there is the voluntary Courtauld commitment for the UK grocery sector, which is aimed at reducing waste, but I believe that the modest targets of reducing product and packaging waste in the early phases of that commitment fall short of this Government’s aspirations. Indeed, we have yet to see the results of those early phases being published.

Separately, the groceries code lays out guidelines for the relationship between retailers and producers in the UK, but it is weak on food waste because it covers only the waste that retailers create when food goes beyond its sell-by date. The role of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, who oversees enforcement, is under review and it is vital that a strong message goes out from this Parliament that the role of the GCA should continue and be strengthened, particularly in relation to waste.

It is critical, for example, that we see a supply chain that delivers a fair livelihood for our growers and producers. I am sure that many members have met producers who have had to plough in fields of perfectly edible vegetables simply because of supermarkets’ failure to market class 2 produce adequately.

The root cause of that problem is an imbalance in our food system, in which supermarket buyers are able to undermine good practice. Forecasting is one of the main areas of waste, in that orders placed a year in advance can be subject to last-minute variations. Although the code covers good practice on forecasting, it offers plenty of wriggle room for supermarkets. The code should be tightened to require retailers to find outlets for unwanted produce supplied as a result of overforecasting. That could be, for example, via processing or sale to consumers at a lower cost. In the longer term, stable contracts based on purchasing a whole field of produce need to be reflected in the code, alongside ending the sale or return practices that are leading to huge waste, particularly in the bakery sector at the moment.

Finally, I welcome this debate. There are many initiatives in Scotland that cut across education, environment, business, health and local government that can enable us to take a joined-up picture in order to tackle those crises and to create the vibrant food culture that we need to nurture in Scotland. I look forward to those approaches being at the heart of the forthcoming good food nation bill.


Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

Given my performance during First Minister’s question time earlier, I should perhaps start by declaring an interest, in that I am guilty of creating food waste in my time. I take Mark Ruskell’s pre-emptive rebuke in the spirit in which it was intended.

I, too, welcome the debate. I support Roseanna Cunningham’s motion and, indeed, much, if not all, of what she had to say in her remarks. Equally, I support Peter Chapman’s amendment that lays particular emphasis on the circular economy, which is helpful. Much as I would like to support Claudia Beamish’s amendment, given her track record in this and related areas, and much as I believe that the Scottish Government needs to be aspirational and ambitious in that area, for all the reasons that other members have suggested, I think that we also need to be realistic. In the brief time available to me, I will set out one of the reasons why I do not think that what is suggested in that amendment is achievable.

In Orkney, there is a real appetite to recycle and to improve our environmental performance. Indeed, there is often frustration when people find that they cannot do more. On an island, using resources sustainably and recycling are self-evidently the right things to do, but Orkney, as the cabinet secretary alluded to in her remarks, is currently exempt from the food waste regulations on the basis of rurality. There is no plant. In the main, solid waste is sent north, to Shetland, to the heat and power generation scheme up there. The costs involved in collection in Orkney are prohibitively high at this stage. Nobody is happy with that state of affairs and good work is going on locally to try to find a solution.

The local council is working with SSE, Scottish Water and some of the waste producers in the agriculture, aquaculture, food and drink and shipping sectors to come up with an innovative solution that not only deals with food waste but provides heat and power to benefit local housing and public buildings in the area, as well as commercial premises.

As one might imagine, and as the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform will not be surprised to hear on the back of the budget statement that we have just heard, that comes at a cost. Officials in Orkney Islands Council have estimated the up-front capital costs at around £40 million to £45 million, which would provide a return in a £1 million to £1.5 million reduction in running costs per year. Orkney Islands Council alone cannot shoulder that cost and, understandably, is looking for match funding from the Scottish Government in due course.

However, the project will also take time to deliver. The official with whom I have been in contact suggested:

“If we started today we are still 4-5 years away from a ‘key in the door’!”

Therefore, to return to my earlier point about the Labour amendment, in a practical sense, it is simply not possible to deliver what Claudia Beamish talks about.

The Government is right to be ambitious—the reasons for that have been well articulated by other speakers—but it must will the means as well as the end. I assure Roseanna Cunningham that Orkney stands ready to play its part in creating a good food nation and driving down food waste, but I hope that she will commit to the capital and revenue support that will allow it to do so.


Richard Lochhead (Moray) (SNP)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to make a brief contribution to the debate. We should celebrate the fact that Parliament is having a dedicated debate on food waste, which is a good illustration of how the agenda has changed over recent years. I congratulate Roseanna Cunningham, the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, on bringing the debate to Parliament. It is unlikely that five or 10 years ago we would all have recognised food waste as being a subject that deserves its own dedicated debate in Parliament, so things are certainly going in the right direction.

I strongly support the Scottish Government’s target to reduce food waste by a third by 2025. There is no doubt that throughout this parliamentary session, the impact of food in all its forms on our health and wellbeing, on our economy—especially given current economic trends—on our environment and on poverty will be much higher up the agenda. The good food nation bill that was promised in the SNP’s manifesto will be a golden opportunity to put in place radical, innovative and forward-thinking measures to progress all those agendas—measures that future generations of Scots will thank us for putting in place when they look back in many years.

If we look at how behaviour has changed in society in recent years thanks to the advent of the Parliament, we see good examples to learn from. For example, the plastic bag levy has helped to change behaviour and, today, we are discussing how 75 per cent of households in Scotland now have a food recycling service. That has been achieved in a few short years. As many other members do, I have my food caddy at home. I now just take it for granted and cannot imagine living without it and the other recycling bins that I have at home in Moray. However, I am still appalled by how often I have to empty the food caddy. There is clearly still a long way to go in our behaviour.

The issue is Scottish, but it is also global. If we have any doubt about how important the agenda is, we have only to look at some of the jaw-dropping statistics about human behaviour, the impact that we are having on the planet and the food debate around that on the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s website. I will quote a couple of statistics. First,

“one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year … gets … wasted”—

that is 1.3 billion tonnes—and

“Global quantitative food losses and waste per year are roughly 30% for cereals, 40-50% for root crops, fruits and vegetables, 20% for oil seeds, meat and dairy plus 35%”

of the world’s fish stocks. Those foods are wasted. If I remember correctly, nearly one third of the world’s fertile land grows food that is wasted. Those are startling statistics that we have to address as a society across the globe. However, we must play our part in Scotland, as well.

Many other agendas that Parliament deals with join up with that—I am thinking in particular about climate change. We have to accept that if we do not tackle climate change the amount of food from fertile land that will be wasted through storms and adverse and extreme weather events will continue to increase. All the energy, nutrients and soils that are put into that production will also be wasted. Also, if food waste is put into landfill it produces gases that contribute to climate change. The agendas are, therefore, tied together.

Many good organisations in Scotland are doing good work. Many food banks—in particular, Moray food bank, with which I am very familiar—are putting efforts into developing new projects that link reducing food waste with tackling food poverty. I ask ministers in the Government to look at opportunities in our communities to tackle those two big issues at the same time. Many projects are looking for funding to use food that would normally go to waste to feed families who are, unfortunately, too often going without. All those agendas are very much joined up.

I welcome the debate and hope that we will have another on food waste soon.


Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

I am delighted to participate in this debate on delivering Scotland’s food waste target.

The Scottish Government has pledged to cut food waste in Scotland by a third by 2025, as has already been referred to. In order to meet that target, a number of food collection measures will be necessary, but emphasis also needs to be placed on prevention of food waste. My comments will address that issue.

At the start of the year, the Scottish Government launched Scotland’s first-ever circular economy strategy—“Making Things Last: A Circular Economy Strategy for Scotland”. Waste prevention is a key feature of that strategy. The document states that

“The first priority in a more circular economy is to avoid unnecessary waste and use fewer resources in the first instance.”

In “Prevention is better than cure: The role of waste prevention in moving to a more resource efficient economy”, the UK Government stipulated that

“Optimising material inputs and reducing wastage through design has to be the starting point of a resource efficient economy. It is not enough to just recycle waste; action is also needed to prevent the waste from being created in the first place.”

One way of encouraging waste prevention is through education, and the love food, hate waste campaign does that very well. Its success can be attributed to its selection of handy tips and hints on anything from portion sizes to storing food, as well as to its innovative recipe ideas, all of which help individuals, businesses and organisations to reduce their food waste. With that advice, people will get the most out of the food that they buy and will, at the same time as they save money, eat more healthily.

We are presented with some quite disturbing figures in Zero Waste Scotland’s “How much food and drink waste is there in Scotland?” report. It claims that, in 2014, 60 per cent of household food waste was classed as “avoidable”. That means that food with a price tag of over £1 billion—an average of £460 per household—was put in the bin in that year. We need to do more because of such figures. Everyone, from individuals to businesses, has a role to play in addressing the challenge of food waste prevention. It is imperative that the Government continues its efforts and that it uses the resources that are at its disposal to promote good practice and invest in educating people on how to prevent and reduce food waste.

Joined-up thinking and working together will result in targets being met and, ultimately, in a reduction in the amount of food that is wasted. We could learn lessons from the Courtauld commitment 2025, which has brought together organisations from across the food sector to try to cut the resources that are needed to provide our food and drink by one fifth over 10 years. Currently, that commitment has more than 120 signatories, which range from supermarkets and trade associations to Government departments and local authorities.

Mark Ruskell

Does Finlay Carson recognise that that initiative has yet to report and that the early targets were extremely disappointing? The target was only 3 per cent in the initial phases.

Finlay Carson

There is no doubt that there is more to be done. The Government can encourage improved performance. I have no doubt that supermarkets and those associations will do everything that they can to reach the targets.

Ahead of the debate, I contacted a number of supermarkets to find out what they are doing to prevent food waste. I am impressed by some of the initiatives. Members will be pleased to learn that a number of supermarkets do not send any food waste to landfill; instead, they send surplus food that is still fit for human consumption to charity partners such as Fareshare.

Last year, one supermarket donated the equivalent of 345,000 meals to more than 370 good causes across the country. In addition, some supermarkets make sure that our wonky vegetables do not go to waste. Instead, the vegetables are used in products such as ready meals, or are sold for less in their wonky-veg boxes.

One supermarket chain is investing £10 million over 10 years in its waste less, save more campaign. The programme is aimed at reducing customers’ food waste and saving them money. Initiatives that are being trialled as part of the programme include giving out fridge thermometers, setting up community fridges and—this is an important part of it—rolling out a programme of school engagement.

Supermarkets are crucial to the aim of reducing food waste, so it is good that they are working with bodies including the National Farmers Union, the British Retail Consortium and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board on a project to reduce food surplus and food waste linked to the primary production of fresh produce.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

You must close, please.

Finlay Carson

Furthermore, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons, the Co-Op and other supermarkets all have ambitious plans to cut the amount of food that is sent to landfill from 6 per cent to 1 per cent by 2020.

As I said, at the heart of preventing food waste is education. If we deal with the problem from the outset the benefits will be much greater than simply meeting targets.


Graeme Dey (Angus South) (SNP)

First, I will reflect on a positive element of the subject, which others have already mentioned. Household food waste has decreased by an estimated 37,000 tonnes a year—or 5.7 per cent overall—since 2009. However, context is everything. In 2013, across the domestic, commercial and industrial sectors Scotland generated a staggering 1.3 million tonnes of food and drink waste, 600,000 tonnes of which was from households alone. Therefore, if we are to hit the Scottish Government target of a one-third reduction by 2025, we need to achieve a 445,000 tonne annual reduction. That is quite a leap.

There is certainly no lack of incentive from environmental and financial perspectives, let alone from the moral perspective, and nor is rising to the challenge—despite its scale—beyond us. Avoidable waste—60 per cent of household food waste is reckoned to be in that category—generates more than 2 per cent of Scotland’s carbon footprint. The value of what is thrown away is, as others have noted, more than £1 billion, or £460 per household. Simply better managing the journey of the food from purchase through our homes would be enough to ensure that we avoid throwing out the estimated 12 per cent of all the food that is purchased.

As with so many climate change related issues, at the root of tackling the issue—certainly from the domestic perspective—is the bringing about of behavioural change. From the perspective of prompting such change, I was struck by research that was commissioned by Sainsbury’s that identified six types of shoppers:

“Hungry Hoarders shop while hungry, resulting in impulse purchases. They often fail to plan ahead meaning their shop might not create complete meals.

Ditsy Diarists do not consult their little black books before their trip to the supermarket and as they eat out a lot or work late, much of what they buy sits unused in the fridge and is eventually thrown away.

Food Phobics are ultra-conscious and throw away food on or before the best before date without first checking its condition.

Separate Shoppers are a generation of independent individuals who buy their own food without checking what their partner or housemate has already bought, often resulting in duplication.

Freezer Geezers simply love their leftovers and use their freezers effectively to minimise food waste.

Conscientious Consumers love to make meals out of leftovers.”

Presiding Officer, I will leave it to you, the cabinet secretary and members to consider which of those categories you might fall into. I am pleased to say that I am a freezer geezer, but I will not say who among my family is a bit of a ditzy diarist. However, a clean out of our—admittedly, large—family fridge last Sunday resulted in the food caddy being filled twice over with items that had passed their sell-by date by between two and four weeks. Like so many members, I suspect that I live in a household that could do more. We can all become freezer geezers or conscientious consumers. Better still, we could reduce the need for that by more efficiently planning our shopping in the first place.

As I have mentioned the work that was commissioned by Sainsbury’s, I will also note some of the sensible and welcome measures that are being taken by that retailer so that it can play its part in reducing food waste. It is, among other things, increasingly sourcing directly from producers so that items including citrus fruits and salad reach the store more quickly and have a longer shelf life. It is also increasing the amount of meat and fish that are vacuum-packed and is utilising so-called wonky veg in its Basics range, for apple juice or for ready-made mashed potatoes. Those are simple practical measures that can and, I hope, will make a difference as Scotland seeks to hit a target that, for so many reasons, must be hit.


David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

This has been an important and insightful debate with well-informed contributions from across the chamber. It is ironic that, as the festive season beckons, we have the almost Dickens-esque record that, while the poor faced food inequality and ill health, 4.2 million Christmas dinners were wasted in the UK in 2014, according to Unilever. In that same year, Scottish households generated an estimated 600,000 tonnes of food waste. The Waste and Resources Action Programme has estimated that every year about 270,000 tonnes of food from the food and drink industry could be redistributed to feed people, which would be enough for a staggering 650 million meals for people who are in need.

Tackling the vast scale of wasted food in our country is an economic, environmental and moral imperative. It is economic, because just a 5.7 per cent reduction in household waste between 2009 and 2014 saved £92 million; environmental, because food and drink production make up about 20 per cent of our carbon footprint; and moral, because so many countries round the world are reporting widespread starvation and many who live in our country are struggling to afford to eat.

It is surely time for a step change in Scotland’s food system. As we have heard, around the world, about a third of food is wasted. If that was reduced by only a quarter, there would be enough to feed everyone on the planet.

As we have heard from all the other speakers, to make headway in reducing food waste, a transformational change in food production is needed. To summarise the key points in the debate, we need individuals to change their attitudes to food use; we need large supermarkets to donate unsold food and, as Sainsbury’s does, to send zero waste to landfill; we need to cut down on food waste along the supply chain; and, as Elaine Smith said, we need to develop community and co-operative initiatives such as local composting schemes. I refer members to my registered interest as a Co-operative Party member. As we have heard from across the chamber, we also need to develop new technology such as smart fridges and food rescue apps.

The reduce, reuse and recycle mantra is vital to protecting our environment and our population from the challenges that are brought about by food waste. In my region—the Highlands and Islands—Lochaber Environmental Group works hard to raise awareness and educate people about ways in which they can help to reduce food waste, through sessions in schools, home visits and free interactive cooking demonstrations. At Westminster, my Labour colleague Kerry McCarthy MP introduced the Food Waste (Reduction) Bill in the House of Commons, through which she hoped to introduce stricter guidelines to cut waste in the supply chain. Her objective was to encourage redistribution of leftover food to charities that help people who are living in food poverty.

I do not have time to mention all the speakers in what has been an excellent debate, but I cannot resist mentioning Mr Chapman’s interesting comment that, if something in his house looks good, he eats it. I ask him to please not invite me to his Christmas dinner on 25 December.

Members: Aw.

David Stewart

I am very sorry about that.

There were extremely good contributions from Gillian Martin and from Edward Mountain, who made the quotable point that he does not farm rubbish and he is not a rubbish farmer. I am sure that that was prefabricated, but it was nevertheless an extremely good line. He made interesting points about rural costs, which I can relate to as a member for the Highlands and Islands.

Angus MacDonald made interesting scientific points about the damaging nature of methane, which is easy to forget. I endorse Elaine Smith’s comments about co-operatives. As always, Mark Ruskell made a thoughtful speech and interventions. My friend Liam McArthur is not going to support the Labour amendment but, in the spirit of Christmas and because I always believe that sinners should have the chance to repent, I hope that next Christmas he will support the Labour amendment. I also endorse the comments of Richard Lochhead, Finlay Carson and Graeme Dey, who is now a freezer geezer.

As we approach the dawn of the new year, we reach the sunset of the old. We have had a year of stunning scientific achievements. We have seen SpaceX successfully land a rocket vertically, which is crucial for the future of manned space exploration. We have seen new research into stem cells that means that disabled stroke patients can walk again. Perhaps more bizarrely, but interestingly, Chinese scientists have discovered that, by adding a one-atom-thick layer of graphene to solar panels, electricity can be generated from raindrops. However, today in Scotland, we have an inequitable society in which the impoverished cannot afford to eat good food, while the affluent relegate food to the bin without a blush. In the words of the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon,

“In a world of plenty, no-one—not a single person—should go hungry.”


Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Con)

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests with regard to Zero Waste Scotland and to my being a Chartered Institution of Wastes Management-accredited WasteSmart trainer.

To reflect on the debate, it is positive that there is agreement about the direction of travel on food waste. Gillian Martin did a sterling job; she focused on collections as well as processing and highlighted the good to go doggy-bag campaign. Edward Mountain highlighted a lack of food waste collections in rural areas and the associated costs, and Liam McArthur followed that up by considering potential solutions for Orkney’s island community. Perhaps the commercial feasibility of an anaerobic digestion plant on Orkney would offer one solution, and I urge the cabinet secretary to publish any available information that she has on that.

Mark Ruskell and Elaine Smith spoke about food justice with respect to food waste, and Mark Ruskell followed that up with a substantive point on managing food waste throughout the supply chain. Whole-field purchasing was mentioned by Mark Ruskell and Peter Chapman.

Overall, we support the Government motion. We recognise the ambitious target but feel that reference must be made to innovation and the circular economy—hence our amendment. Over the next four and a half minutes, I will explain why innovation is so important by focusing on food waste prevention for consumers and businesses.

Before that, I note that we require information on how to measure as well as how to incentivise food waste prevention, especially given the perverse incentive at local authority level to recycle waste rather than prevent it. I have sympathy with the Labour amendment and with an assessment of a 100 per cent recycling rate by 2020, although I agree with the cabinet secretary’s point that it probably would have been best to refer to a recovery rate rather than a recycling rate. According to the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, we would generally not have recycling of food waste in the waste hierarchy, which goes from prevention to recovery and down to disposal. I have a slide on that, too.

Roseanna Cunningham

The member is a geek.

Maurice Golden


I fear that not enough progress has been made towards the 2021 target, so an assessment of how food waste targets will be met would be very much welcomed at this stage.

It is important to highlight food poverty. The average household could save £460 per year by throwing away less food—Angus MacDonald eloquently made that point.

Food waste prevention has many benefits. It is a win for consumers and businesses through saving money, but it is also a win for the environment as, every time food is wasted, the water, energy, time, labour, land, fertiliser, fuel and packaging that are put into growing, preparing, storing, transporting and cooking the food are entirely wasted.

The carbon impact of a punnet of strawberries is around 3kg. Globally, if food waste was a country, it would be the world’s third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide. On average, preventing 1 tonne of food waste avoids more than 4 tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

The love food, hate waste campaign is important in supporting consumers and providing them with advice on how to plan, portion and store food in order to prevent waste—that point was well made by my colleague Finlay Carson. It is therefore worrying that the Scottish Government has cut funding for that campaign. I recognise the work of the love food, hate waste champions throughout Scotland, and zero waste East Dunbartonshire is one such community group that is worthy of a mention.

Claudia Beamish mentioned the benefits of orchards, which can use waste apples to create apple juice, as well as creating positive mental health outcomes. Richard Lochhead explained that he could not live without his food waste caddy in a passionate speech about his efforts to tackle food waste. Graeme Dey confessed that he is a freezer geezer and wants to encourage conscientious consumers, although he admitted that there is a ditsy diner in his household.

At home, I have been trialling Winnow technology, which involves a set of electronic scales that is connected to an app that logs all household food waste over four weeks. The system then calculates how much has been thrown out and at what cost. That is a great way to review how we can reduce our overall food waste.

We need to look at how we encourage businesses to prevent food waste and develop innovative solutions for processing. Reclassification of aerobic on-site biodigesters would be one way in which we could help businesses—particularly those in rural areas.

We need to develop innovative solutions to reduce food waste for the benefit of the environment, businesses and consumers, as part of our journey towards a circular economy.


Roseanna Cunningham

This is the kind of debate that probably makes us all feel very guilty. My declaration of interests is that, yes, like everyone else I frequently fail to match purpose to consumption. I probably tick the all-of-the-above box on Graeme Dey’s list, although he did not mention one. On the plus side, I grow some of my own food. My freezers—plural—are stuffed with frozen green beans and courgettes, and I have bottled tomatoes in the pantry. On the downside, there are more apples on the ground in my garden than I will ever be able to use, and they will literally be for the birds.

I will mention something worth talking about that has not been raised in the debate, although Maurice Golden referred to it in passing at the end of his speech. I need to say something about the opportunities for business to make the most of the biological resources that flow through our economy. We have not really touched on the subject today, but it is worth a mention. The bioeconomy is one of our four priority sectors, where we can make the biggest environmental and economic impact. Food waste is a significant source of carbon emissions, and a more circular approach to the beer, whisky and fish sectors could lead to potential savings of half a billion pounds a year. There is a huge opportunity there.

Although our primary focus is on reducing waste, we want an increasing proportion of biological waste to be used for production of high-value materials and chemicals, maximising environmental and economic benefits, and replacing non-renewable chemical feedstocks. I may be wrong, but I think that Peter Chapman, who is sitting at the front of the Conservative benches, referred to some of that.

In February, the First Minister announced £70 million of European and Scottish Government money to deliver our circular economy ambitions and our manufacturing action plan. Some of the actions that relate to food waste will be in those areas. A key element of that is our circular economy investment fund.

In October, Paul Wheelhouse announced £1.5 million of funding for a bioeconomy accelerator programme to support innovative projects, in partnership with the Scottish Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre, which will maximise collaboration between business and research. That speaks to the Conservative amendment, which refers to innovation.

Scottish Enterprise and Zero Waste Scotland have already provided funding and support to successful companies such as CelluComp, which turns vegetable waste into a cellulose-based product that has a number of applications for paint and coatings. They have also supported Celtic Renewables, which is turning whisky waste into biofuel, which is a direct replacement for fossil road fuel, and into other valuable chemicals.

Those of you who follow me on social media will know that I have been nurturing my own circular economy project, by virtue of Aurora Sustainability, which is helping to explore circular economy models. In my case, that has involved growing mushrooms on my windowsill, using waste coffee grinds as the medium in which to grow them. Given the amount of waste coffee grounds that are chucked out every day, one can imagine that, if we can find a solution for their use, it would be extraordinary.

We have heard a number of examples of good practice from members on all sides of the chamber. Peter Chapman raised several issues and asked how we can support the more remote local authorities. That is a real issue, which Liam McArthur also mentioned. To a certain extent, it highlights why there is currently a rural derogation. However, the derogation is currently postcode based, which means that urban areas are captured unnecessarily, so we are going to look at it again.

Peter Chapman rightly pointed out that there are consumer behaviour issues involved in this policy area. He will be pleased to know that I will accept the Conservative amendment, which speaks of the necessity of innovation. Much of that innovation is already happening, but we all need to look for more progress.

I note in passing that, since 2013, we have given £25 million to councils for food waste recycling, so they have had money from us to address that issue. On the bigger question of funding for zero waste in the draft budget, the budget has been exactly the same—at £20.5 million—in 2016-17 and 2017-18, so there is not a cut. The difference is that, for 2016-17, an extra £3 million was given in-year to enable councils to address particular issues and run projects relating to climate change.

Claudia Beamish spoke to her amendment, to which David Stewart also spoke. However, as I indicated earlier, I have had clear and explicit advice from Zero Waste Scotland that the target that is proposed in the amendment is unachievable. For the avoidance of doubt, as I have been given such clear advice, I cannot accept the Labour amendment. I regret that, because I know that Claudia Beamish will have lodged the amendment with the very best of intentions, but I hope to have further conversations with her on the subject, and we may find more on which to agree than to disagree.

Gillian Martin and Angus MacDonald spoke about local examples of good practice. I was interested to hear of Finlay Carson’s conversations with local retailers, and what he reports is heartening. Edward Mountain spoke about treating the Highlands differently—yes, of course. He talked about food recycling which, as has been indicated, is not part of our target. In any case, as I have discussed, the rural derogation takes into account the difficulties that rural areas face, and to a certain extent it highlights the problem that would be posed if we attempted to meet a 100 per cent target.

Elaine Smith rightly spoke about the shame of wasting food in our world when so many have so little. It strikes me that our grandparents and great-grandparents would be bewildered by this debate; I doubt that they wasted so much as a crumb. Mark Ruskell spoke about where most food waste comes from. Actually, the household is the single largest contributor, followed by manufacturing, and the various other sectors are a good deal further down the list.

Mark Ruskell

What specific action will the Scottish Government be taking to strengthen the groceries code? As we all know, of course, there is nobody in the chamber to speak up for the farmers.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Before the cabinet secretary responds, I ask members—especially those who are sitting close to the cabinet secretary—to show a bit of consideration and stop having conversations.

Roseanna Cunningham

As Mark Ruskell knows from what I have said during the debate, a number of actions, conversations and initiatives are being undertaken. We have to go through every single layer of the food waste journey in order to achieve what we want to achieve but, as I understand it, supermarkets account for only 2 per cent of food waste. Some of the much bigger targets that we need to achieve are not so much about the supermarkets but involve areas such as manufacturing.

Liam McArthur raised some of the same general issues that were raised by Peter Chapman and Edward Mountain. As we all recognise, the scale of the challenge demonstrates how difficult our work will be, and we have to think carefully about how we will manage it.

I pay tribute to Richard Lochhead, my predecessor as Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment, for all his work in this policy area. We are where we are now because of the actions that he took over a number of years—indeed, he announced the food waste target in February this year.

I will take away all the points that members have raised and consider them further as we put together a package of actions to deliver on our food waste target. We have launched a series of stakeholder workshops to discuss options to achieve the target, emphasising that all sectors—including farms—need to work together all along the supply chain. The next step will be a formal consultation in 2017 on a set of actions to meet that target, which could include legislative measures for inclusion in the good food nation bill.

I remind all members that the 33 per cent target on food waste prevention does not include food waste recycling. In the debate today, and in the discussions that we might have after it, it can be very easy to conflate the two. We are not treating them as the same: when we talk about the target of 33 per cent by 2025 we are talking specifically about food waste prevention, not recycling. It can be a little difficult to get our heads around that, but we need to remember it.

Our food waste target is one of the most ambitious in the world. It is a testing target. Our circular economy strategy is about keeping valuable products, including food, in high-value use for as long as possible in Scotland—a good food nation. It is about making things last. As a number of members implied throughout the debate, now we need to make things happen.