London is one of the food capitals of the world. Feeding a city of nine million people is no small feat and takes a huge toll on the environment, especially when almost all food and drink has to be brought in from outside the capital. The food and waste streams flowing through our food system pose a serious challenge to London’s ambitions to be a low-carbon and circular city.
ReLondon’s latest report, London’s Food Footprint, has mapped for the first time the environmental impact of material flows and consumption-based emissions (greenhouse gas emissions attributed to consumers rather than producers) of the London food system and identified levers for climate action. The scale of the challenge is huge, but our research also shows how some bold and strategic steps in the transition to a more circular economy can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The report highlights some clear findings:
- Approximately 6,347,000 tonnes of food are produced each year to feed the London food system. 99% of London’s food and drink is imported from outside the city and local manufacturing and agriculture accounts for less than 1% of the capital’s food supply
- Before it reaches London, 836,000 tonnes of imported food is lost in the supply chain. This represents the second largest amount of food either lost or wasted in the entire food system, after household waste (931,000 tonnes); 67% of London’s ‘food waste’ is edible, but only 0.5% is redistributed
- Meat is particularly carbon intensive – it accounts for around 5% of the food consumed by London households, but is responsible for 27% of London household consumption-related emissions.
The food waste generated by Londoners is also contributing to a rise in consumption-related emissions associated with the production of that food. Of the food losses and waste generated in the city, 8% still ends up in landfills, which themselves generate 256kt CO2eq every year.
London’s food system also has significant impacts outside the city itself, influencing the food produced, the food losses and waste generated, and the greenhouse gases emitted: a whopping 78% of the consumption-based emissions associated with the capital’s food system occur outside the city limits.
ReLondon’s research aims to help meet the city’s zero-waste and zero-carbon targets by identifying leverage points in London’s food system that can lead to significant reductions in emissions.
Key points include a shift towards healthier and more sustainable diets, reducing food loss and waste (along the supply chain) and making better use of the food waste we produce.
We modeled two scenarios for each of these points: moderate and ambitious. In the more ambitious scenarios, the identified interventions have the potential to reduce consumption-related emissions from the London food system by an estimated 31%. Our modeling also showed the importance of an integrated approach and the potentially higher impact we could have when combining interventions around the types of food we eat (healthy and sustainable eating) with the broader issue of food loss and waste.
The Mayor of London and London Boroughs, supported by ReLondon, are already taking action. These include the Food Flagship Initiative, a three-year partnership between the Mayor of London, ReLondon and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to accelerate London’s transition to a low-carbon, circular food economy. We are developing an ambitious action plan that will help focus efforts on interventions with the greatest impact.
Recognizing that this issue cannot be solved with a silo approach, we will also convene a food supply chain roundtable in 2022, bringing together executives from companies with the largest presence to discuss how to reduce emissions, Want to reduce food loss and waste.
The Food Flagship Initiative also recognizes and showcases bold and ambitious projects that are pioneering circular food system solutions. London’s first three Circular Food Pioneer Projects were recently unveiled in hopes of inspiring new solutions. The Felix Project in London has been singled out for their work in saving surplus food and redistributing it to those in need and at their new Felix’s Kitchen they are using surplus food to provide ready cooked meals. Toast Ale is scaling its use of excess bread to help more breweries transition to a circular brewing model, and a new ReLondon-funded project in partnership with the London Borough of Bexley will measure the food waste impact of targeted local advertising for apps like Olio and kitchen.
Moving towards a circular economy for food in London will not only help tackle the climate crisis, but also create opportunities to restore biodiversity, regenerate soil, reduce water use and pollution and improve our health. It could also bring many other economic and social benefits, including community well-being, social cohesion, supply chain resilience, skills development and job creation.
This research is an important milestone in understanding how to achieve zero-carbon ambitions – not just in London, but in other sectors and cities around the world. Together we must seize the opportunity for London to lead the way in reducing the generation of harmful emissions from our food system.
We are looking for more transformative projects. So if you have an idea or an existing concept, apply today to be recognized as one of London’s circular economy pioneers.