Food & Waste: How and why we created this section

Recycling bins

This section is one of the shorter sections, and this is because the role that councils can play in area-wide waste reduction and sustainable food consumption is primarily a convening and influencing role. There are no questions in this section that use FOI requests, and only two questions that use only national data.

Council only actions

The first few questions in this section focus on the councils’ own operations. As stated elsewhere, the main focus of these Scorecards is to measure area-wide council climate action. However, there are some actions councils can take within their own operations, and through influencing external events held on their land which are worth scoring as they have a strong influencing impact on waste reduction locally. The questions about reducing single use plastic might seem like a high bar to set, yet this is what has happened in Scotland, so all Scottish councils will be getting points for these questions by default. There is another important role that councils can play in reducing waste through procurement, and this is covered in the procurement question in the Governance and Finance section.  

Taking steps towards a circular economy and local food production

These two questions on whether councils have taken steps to support the circular economy locally and local food production are weaker than some of the other questions in this section. This is because it is hard to measure specific council action on circular economies and local food production, especially as what councils could be doing is quite varied. We also didn’t want to have loads of questions covering each individual action, such as repair cafes, campaigns encouraging recycling, community orchards etc so these questions are broader to catch the variety of actions we know many councils are already doing to enable a more circular economy and local and sustainable food production. The role that councils can play here is also enabling, they can’t single-handedly transform local food production or create a complete circular economy locally which is why these questions have been weighted as low. 

What can councils do about food waste?

We have included a question on whether a council is part of a sustainable food partnership and if they have a sustainable food strategy or action plan as an important way councils can use their convening powers over food waste and sustainable food production and consumption. We will be using the Sustainable Food Places list of sustainable food partnerships memberships as one of the ways to score councils on this question. It is unlikely but possible that a council is part of a sustainable food partnership that isn’t listed on Sustainable Food Places’ list so we will ensure volunteers check council websites too for this information. 

We have also asked if a council supports a surplus food distribution scheme in the area. Whilst the ultimate goal is to reduce food waste overall so that surplus food doesn’t need to be redistributed, we recognise that this is an important action that councils can support as a midterm solution. In addition to cutting food waste, projects that redistribute surplus food can provide affordable (and often healthy) food to those on limited income, which is a co-benefit of this work. 

Household waste and recycling

We are asking a question on whether councils provide kerbside food waste recycling. We would have liked to score councils on the amount of household food waste but this data is not available. We know that all Welsh and Scottish councils already provide this service, and that from 2023/24 or later it will be a requirement for all UK councils to do so. However, as we will be scoring councils on their climate action since 1st January 2019 we are including this question this time around. In future Scorecards, this question is likely to be taken out, amended or replaced as kerbside food waste recycling becomes a requirement for all UK councils, and is implemented.

Scoring councils on their average recycling rates seemed like an obvious question to include, especially as the UK Government already has a target for the UK recycling rate to be at least 50% (by the year 2020, which was not reached), and councils already monitor this. 

Measuring the amount of waste produced by a local authority, the other side of the coin to recycling, was harder to work out how to measure. This is because each of the devolved nations collect this data slightly differently. In order for this data to be comparable, Climate Emergency UK has had to do some additional calculations. See below for how this is being calculated. 

How Climate Emergency UK is calculating residual waste (Kg) per household per Local Authority across the UK

EnglandVia WasteDataFlow you can easily find the residual waste per household, in Kg, of all local authorities in England
WalesVia stats Wales you can easily find the residual waste per household, in Kg, of all local authorities in England
ScotlandScotland doesn’t have a total residual waste amount so to calculate this we add up ‘Other diversion from landfill (tonnes)’ and ‘Landfilled (tonnes)’ to create the total amount of residual waste per local authority in kg/tonnes. We then divide this figure by the total number of households in the local authority to get the figure for residual waste per household, in Kg.
Northern IrelandWe are dividing the total residual waste amount, in Kg, by the number of households in order to get the figure for residual waste per household, in Kg.

Questions we didn’t include

Councils can have a significant influence over school meals. We have included a question on reducing meat consumption in school meals. We have weighted this question as medium because the carbon impact of replacing meat in a meal for tens of thousands of students each week is huge. However, we were going to have another question about food in schools, asking if school food providers have a Food for Life Bronze of equivalent standard. We decided not to include this question because it is hard to mark with publicly available information and the impact of locally sourced food and free range eggs (some of the criteria for the Food for Life Bronze award) is lower than reducing meat in the menu overall. 

As part of this section we spoke to the National Farmers’ Union and others about what councils can be doing to support the farming sector to decarbonise. Whilst it is clear that there is lots that this sector can do to decarbonise, the role that local authorities can play in this is more indirect. Support to county farms, advice for farmers and good relationships between councils, planning authorities and farmers are important steps towards decarbonising the farming sector, but are hard actions to measure. Furthermore, councils in urban areas would have a different role to play compared to more rural areas. This is another reason why a question on this work was not included, but this does not mean that this is important work to be done, especially for more rural councils. 

We considered including a question about whether the food provided in council buildings is low carbon or vegetarian. We decided against including this question because, from research, we found that lots of councils no longer provide in-house catering, and of those that do, the amount of food they serve and the carbon impact of this food is relatively small, especially compared to the food provided on a wider scale, such as in schools.


This question was a really interesting section to explore, we learnt a lot about how school catering is provided and that councils do own some farms in the UK (new to me!). Given the potential huge breadth of questions we could have asked on this extensive topic, we hope you agree that we have chosen the questions that are the most measurable and have the biggest impact on greenhouse gas emission reductions within a local authority area. We hope you find this section as tasty as we do 🙂