Sustainability is a key issue on the national agenda for 2024 in the Consumer Goods, Food and Retail sector. Governments, businesses and consumers are generally aligned in their drive towards a more sustainable way of life.
In Scotland, in particular, steps are being taken to progress the Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill through the Scottish Parliament. The Bill aims to create a circular economy based on reducing waste, carbon emissions, and pressures on the natural environment. It is estimated that around four fifths of Scotland's carbon footprint comes from the products it manufactures, consumes and throws away, and the services used in the country. This Bill is currently at “Stage 1”, in which relevant Committees of the Scottish Parliament examine the Bill and gather views before producing reports. Developments on this are expected in early 2024.
The introduction of this Bill in Scotland should be viewed against the backdrop of increasing focus by both businesses and consumers on sustainability.
The Waste and Resources Action Programme (“WRAP”)’s Courtald Commitment 2030 is a “voluntary agreement that enables collaborative action across the entire UK food chain to deliver farm-to-fork reductions in food waste, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and water stress that will help the UK food and drink sector achieve global environmental goals”. To summarise its intentions, it aims for a 50% reduction in food waste (against 2007 figures), a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (against 2015 figures), and 50% of fresh food being sourced from areas with sustainable water management.
Food waste is a live issue for consumers, particularly in light of the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. It is also topical for businesses. In recent years, many supermarkets have begun removing “use by” dates from certain products. The rationale for this was simple: studies showed that many consumers would make decisions on whether to purchase produce entirely, or almost entirely, on the “use by” date, which in many cases would not accurately represent the actual usability of the produce – thus leading to increased unnecessary food waste.
According to the Food Standards Agency, “use by” dates are linked to food safety, and “best before” dates relate to food quality. Foods with a “best before” date can therefore be safely eaten beyond the stated date.
From the end of 2023, we witnessed numerous major UK supermarkets beginning to up the ante on this project to dispense with unnecessary “use by” dates by announcing the removal - or intention to remove - “use by” dates from milk and other dairy products. WRAP research shows that milk is the third most wasted food in the UK, with over 490 million pints thrown away each year, largely thanks to the average consumer being guided by the “use by” date. As we enter 2024, business focus on reducing major sources of waste (such as milk) is expected to continue, with education for consumers of vital importance in order to make a measurable difference.
This behavioural shift towards reducing waste is generally reflected in the population. In December 2023, Zero Waste Scotland (“ZWS”) published the results of its first annual Circularity Living Tracker. ZWS comment that “People in Scotland are tuning in to the fact that serious measures are required for the climate emergency on our hands; and that we may need today’s leaders to apply ever tougher measures to save ourselves from our inertia…”. Individuals are generally supportive of measures implemented by businesses and are looking to appointed politicians to take a harsher stance in terms of regulations.
Interestingly, as ZWS’s Circularity Living Tracker shows, individuals in Scotland are more likely to recycle (72% of the population) or reduce (65%) than reuse products (45%). The expansion of existing schemes, alongside entirely new projects, is set to tackle that.
In 2021, ZWS introduced a “Ditching Disposables” pilot, with the aim of reducing the use of single-use disposables across various businesses (in particular, those within the hospitality sector). Waste from drinks is a “hot topic” in Scotland in particular, with the Scottish Deposit Return Scheme regularly discussed in publications and in Parliament. Meanwhile, savvy businesses across the globe are capitalising on this shift towards abandoning single-use disposables, with product marketing tools having made reusable water bottles an attractive option – indeed, the reusable water bottle market is set to reach a value of $12 billion by 2031 according to Transparency Market Research.
2024 and beyond
It is safe to say that reducing, reusing and recycling has secured its position as a prime topic for regulators, businesses and consumers across the UK and beyond. Research on national attitudes within the UK towards sustainability produces consistent results: many businesses and consumers want to take action and want assistance to do so.
DLA Piper’s market-leading team of experts can advise on regulatory requirements on sustainability and waste across various jurisdictions.