Serving up a food waste strategy for NHSScotland

A post by Loraine Hartley, Food Supply Commodity Manager, NSS National Procurement

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, cited that if the global mass of food waste were a country, it would be the third largest source of international carbon emissions. Food waste is becoming an ever increasing concern in the world’s climate crisis debate. Extraordinarily though, food waste was first identified as a problem as early as World War 1 and it was in fact one of the early goals of the Woman’s Institute (WI), and today remains a key subject of their campaigns.

As a national institution, the WI no doubt recognises that its membership possesses powerful influence – a large membership pool of customers and consumers, whose shared voice and actions can make a significant difference. As NHSScotland (NHSS), we too have that shared opportunity.

Approximately eight million patient meals are distributed in Scotland’s hospitals each year. On top of this, other people bring food into hospitals for potential consumption, for example, visitors bringing food items for patients or staff bringing in food to eat. So whilst food waste records are part of the food management in hospitals, it’s incredibly difficult to get clear sight of the overall picture. Through a new five year Food Waste Strategy for NHSScotland, one of the first key areas that will be looked at is ways to better identify all of the routes of hospital food waste, and what can be done to impact reduction.

The new strategy will be in line with the Scottish Government’s target to reduce food waste by 33% by 2025. Two years in development, it is due to be finalised this month (January 2020) by the short-life working group on food waste action. It will then be presented to all relevant groups in NHSScotland.

In line with the Scottish Government agenda on food waste, we (NSS National Procurement) have been working with Zero Waste Scotland to help bring together suppliers, waste managers and catering and site service managers from all NHSS health boards. A series of workshops and site visits have helped bring all parties closer together to share insights, and best practice to help build a clearer picture of the commonalities and differences across regions.

The first two to three years of the strategy period will be about establishing baselines and developing bespoke action plans for each health board. After this time, via greater insights and learnings, a mid-term review will take place to update the strategy and put in place longer term solutions that don’t just help make the improvements to achieve the desired food waste reduction targets, but deliver added benefits right across the supply chain. This will enable NHSS to build a deeper understanding of the impact we have on our suppliers (and vice versa), which can change the way we purchase as well as the packaging and shelf-life of what we buy.

There will inevitably be a great deal to do, and food waste is not an easy problem to solve by any means. However, this is about recognising and evidencing what we can all do across NHSS, to really understand, act upon, and do the right thing. Like the WI, we can leverage the scale and scope of our organisation – our people and buying power. Even in making small changes, as NHSS, we have the potential to deliver big improvements.

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