Indian Food Industry – Should More Be Done to Reduce Waste?

Much has been written about food waste in India. However, most of this discussion stems around agricultural produce and the absence of storage / transportation facilities that lead to its fruits and vegetables and grains being wasted / spoilt.

However, I am curious to know how food waste is being tackled in other sections of the food chain. We have large grocery chains such as Reliance, Future Group, food processing companies Unilever, Nestle, Britannia and a slew of 5 star hotels who are all part of the food value chain.

  • Retail Grocery/Supermarket – Websites of companies such as Reliance Fresh and Food Bazaar (Future Retail) do not mention any food waste based initiatives.
  • Hotels – Websites of Taj, ITC and Intercontinental have specific policies and practices on food waste Oberoi Hotels and Radisson Hotel websites do not mention anything.
  • Food Manufacturing companies – While Britannia, GlaxoSmithKline, Nestle, Tata Global beverages, ITC Foods websites specifically talk of food waste initiatives. Kwality Dairy, Hatsun Agro Products Ltd. and REI Agro Ltd. dont mention anything on their website.

A close look at the websites of the hotels that mention food waste reveals that most of the initiatives for hotels stem around recycling but other than Intercontinental Hotels no one mentions food donation programs. However, we did come across a very interesting article that talks of creative menu planning by hotels to reduce waste and use of unused items for creative food decoration.

While the food manufacturers talk extensively about reducing food waste as part of manufacturing, there is little talk of reducing the impact of food packaging on the environment. Food manufacturers have introduced multi layered packaging which has plastic lined with foils or laminated plastic in food items. This insulates the food and increases its shelf life but most of this is non-recyclable garbage. Many civic bodies are getting increasingly burdened with non-recyclables which largely constitute multi-layered packaging waste-thermocol, Styrofoam, etc. While it may not weigh much, but the volume is huge and unmanageable.

Also there is very little consumer involvement / awareness on this issue in India. While in developed countries brands are discussing this issue with consumers. The narrative in India is largely about reducing agricultural waste alone.

A close look at the Courtauld initiative in UK reveals some innovative work being done by companies to reduce waste.

Danone Dairy UK
Plastics used for yoghurt pots are recyclable but currently not widely recycled. Danone is working in partnership with Terracycle UK to recycle their packaging into new products, e.g. pots, bags, etc. This covers both pre- and post-consumer waste.

Terracycle provides free collection systems for waste packaging. Danone customers are encouraged to set up a Danone Yogurt ‘brigade’ which is a community-based collection point. To date 400+ Danone ‘brigades’ have been established involving over 5,000 consumers. The benefits are:

  • Less plastic waste going to landfill.
  • Building consumer awareness and involvement.
  • Raising money for charity (2p per pot). ‘Brigades’ can choose their own charity or use Danone’s charity choice Fareshare.

Danone Waters (UK & Ireland)
In September 2010, Volvic launched their ‘greener bottle’, made with 20% sugarcane – called Bio-PET. This reduces the amount of non-renewable plastic material needed to create the bottle. By combining 25% recycled plastic (r-PET) and Bio-PET, the bottle has:

  • a 38% lower packaging carbon footprint; and
  • a 16% lower total lifecycle footprint than previous bottles.

In addition, Volvic is aiming to reduce the weight of the bottle from 17g to 15g, which will halve the carbon footprint of the current bottle

Premier Foods
In 2009 Premier Foods worked with a number of charitable organisations to donate approximately 116,000 cases of food to help people in urgent social need, both in the UK and in the developing world.

  • 1,050 tonnes of food waste diverted from landfill.
  • Equivalent to about 1.6 million separate meals with a value of £500,000 donated to charity.
  • 24 tonnes of saved CO2e (methane) emissions.

Premier Foods has made a commitment to stop sending any waste, including food, to landfill by 2015. The company is on track to achieve this challenging target. Food donations are a positive way to help those in social need whilst also reducing impact on the environment

Kraft Foods
Cadbury has switched to reusable rigid packaging (polypans) to significantly reduce single-use transit packaging for its ‘work in progress’ factory products. Various ‘assortment products’ were packed from the production line into corrugated boxes awaiting finishing into a number of different product formats. Space limitations required these to be transported by road to off-site storage. Moving to polypans and an automated handling system has improved on-site storage and cut transportation time and costs. Benefits are:

  • Saving over 1,000 tonnes per year of cardboard (1,040 t of CO2e).
  • Associated savings in resources needed to recycle corrugated wastes.
  • Saving more than 40,000 road miles per year.
  • Emissions savings from road vehicles by 75 tonnes of CO2 per year.
  • Polypans have an operating life of 5-10 years and are recyclable.

Perhaps an industry wide initiative is required so that the problem of waste being generated by the food industry can be handled at a systemic level. While individual companies such as Nestle and GSK India talk of packaging innovation on their websites, on the whole Indian food companies could learn a lot from the success of The Courtauld Commitment – an industry wide initiative to reduce waste.

A look at the Courtauld Commitment
Courtauld 1 (2005-10) looked at new solutions and technologies so that less food and primary packaging ended up as household waste. The targets were weight based (reported in tonnes), and 42 signatories participated. During the course of Courtauld 1, 1.2 million tonnes of food and packaging waste was prevented, with a monetary value of £1.8 billion.

Courtauld 2 (2010-12) not only aimed to reduce primary packaging and household food and drink waste, but also focused on reducing secondary and tertiary packaging, and supply chain waste. It encouraged the sustainable use of resources throughout the whole supply chain. Phase 2 progress: Reporting two years into the Commitment shows that significant progress is being made by the 53 signatories. The cumulative results for 2010 and 2011 show:

  • Packaging: 8.2% drop in associated greenhouse gas emissions against a 10% target.
  • Supply chain: 8.8% cut in waste against a 5% target.
  • Household food waste: data is not collected yearly but a 3% reduction was achieved in 2010 against a 4% target.
  • Phase 2 ended in December 2012. The final results will be reported soon.

Courtauld 3 (2013-15) launched early May 2013 and aims to reduce the weight and carbon impact of household food waste, grocery product and packaging waste, both in the home and the UK grocery sector, by 4% overall by 2015, from a 2012 baseline. This translates into a cumulative reduction of 1.1 million tonnes of waste, 2.9 million tonnes of CO2e and a cost benefit of £1.6 billion to industry and consumers.There were over 40 signatories when Courtauld 3 launched.


Global Food Report 2013 – Waste not, Want not
Courtland Commitment UK