Statutory guidance

Food and drink waste hierarchy: deal with surplus and waste

Updated 1 January 2024

This guidance is for any business or organisation which produces, handles, treats, or disposes of surplus or waste food and drink, including:

  • farmers and producers
  • manufacturers
  • retailers
  • hospitality and food service providers
  • local authorities

Your priority should be to prevent producing food and drink waste in the first place.

Following this hierarchy will help you to:

  • minimise the environmental impact of food and drink waste
  • maximise the value of food and drink surplus, for example by reselling or donating to charity
  • reduce associated waste, for example packaging

The government’s policy on preventing and managing food and drink waste is set out in the

Apply the hierarchy

You should deal with your food and drink surplus and waste using the hierarchy’s list of options, where 1 is the best and 8 is the worst. If the first option is not suitable for your business, move down to the next one.

Options 1 to 4 offer you guidance on how to prevent food waste occurring in your business.

Options 5 to 8 are required by law. They tell you how to comply with your statutory waste hierarchy duty, as set out in regulation 12 of the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011.

  1. Prevent surplus and waste in your business.

  2. Redistribute surplus food and drink.

  3. Make animal feed from former food.

  4. Process surplus food to make biomaterials.

  5. Recycle - anaerobic digestion and composting.

  6. Recover waste by landspreading.

  7. Recover energy from waste.

  8. Dispose - send to sewer and landfill.

Your decisions about food surplus and waste may depend on cost and facilities available. You should apply the actions in the order they are listed, where possible.

1. Prevent surplus and waste in your business

Use the tools from the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) to help you, your suppliers and your customers prevent or reduce food waste.

You can join other businesses in committing to reduce your food waste by:

1.1 Develop your strategy to identify food surplus and waste

It is good practice to measure and record your food and drink surplus and waste.

Find out how to consistently measure your food waste and surplus on the WRAP website.

You can also use the Food Waste Reduction Roadmap or Guardians of Grub resources to help you.

1.2 Help your consumers to reduce waste

You can encourage consumers to reduce or prevent waste using ideas from the Love Food Hate Waste campaign.

You can also help your customers to make better choices by implementing WRAP’s best practice guidance on food date labelling and storage.

1.3 ‘Use by’ and ‘best before’ labels

You must not use, sell or donate food that’s past its ‘use-by’ date. You must treat these items as waste.

‘Best before’ dates are about food quality rather than safety.

If food has passed its ‘best before’ date, it’s not immediately unsafe, but may have started to lose its colour, flavour or texture. You can sell these foods, redistribute them, or send them for animal feed as long as it’s safe to do so.

Read more about food labelling.

2. Redistribute surplus food and drink

You can redistribute surplus food to organisations such as:

  • charities
  • schools
  • commercial redistributors
  • food banks

You must only donate food that’s safe and fit for human consumption. Never donate food that’s past its ‘use-by’ date.

For more information on redistribution, read:

You can also make a private redistribution arrangement with local partners.

2.1 Create a surplus food supply plan

If you’re a manufacturer, you can make a surplus food supply plan, also known as a site assessment, to find ways to use or reduce waste in your manufacturing.

Use these tools from WRAP and IGD to help:

3. Make animal feed from former food

If you supply surplus food or drink for use as animal feed, you must comply with feed hygiene requirements when handling it, and not treat it as waste. Read the Food Standards Agency’s guidance Food and drink businesses – supplying into the animal feed chain.

If you use low-risk animal by-product foodstuffs to make farm animal feed, follow the government guidance Supplying and using animal by-products as farm animal feed.

If you supply, use or handle animal feed, you must register your site with your local authority - usually the trading standards officer.

For more information, read:

3.1 Food suitable for animal feed

You can use surplus bakery or confectionery products in animal feed if they do not contain, and have not been in contact with, meat, fish, or shellfish.

You can feed animals fruit and vegetable material that:

  1. Originated outside the kitchen.
  2. Has never entered the kitchen.
  3. Has not come into contact with animal material.

For example, you can feed vegetables grown in domestic gardens or on farms to animals.

3.2 Food not permitted for animal feed

You must not feed catering waste and kitchen scraps to farmed animals. It could cause a significant health risk to animals and the public.

3.3 Former foodstuffs of animal origin (animal by-products)

Your site manager must decide if a foodstuff containing products of animal origin is no longer intended for human consumption.

If they do, the former foodstuff becomes an animal by-product. They cannot reverse their decision.

Find out how to dispose of animal by-products (ABPs).

Check if you need to send your animal by-products to an approved animal by-product plant.

4. Process surplus food to make biomaterials

You may be able to find new uses for previously wasted or low-value materials

You can prevent food waste by converting it into industrial products if it’s technically feasible for your business to do so, for example:

  • packaging material from fibres
  • bioplastics from polylactic acid
  • feathers for pillows
  • leather
  • soaps or cosmetics from rendered fat, oil or grease

You can also prevent food waste by converting surplus food into other food and drink products or ingredients, for example making beer from surplus bread. You can do this either in the same factory or a different food processing facility.

5. Recycle - anaerobic digestion and composting

Where possible, you should arrange for your food waste to be collected separately from residual waste and dry recyclable materials. This is so that it can be sent for anaerobic digestion or for composting.

Anaerobic digestion is better for the environment than composting. It can produce renewable energy in addition to recycling nutrients in the digestate.

5.1 Arranging food waste collections

You should check with your local authority which products can be included in your food waste bins for recycling.

When choosing a waste collector, by law you must:

  • make sure that anyone collecting your waste has a waste carrier, broker or dealer licence with the Environment Agency
  • only pass your waste to, or have it collected by, a registered person

If possible, your waste collector should send your food waste for anaerobic digestion rather than composting.

The site that receives your waste must also have an environmental permit or registered waste exemption. Check with the Environment Agency to make sure your site has the right permission.

If you decide that anaerobic digestion is not your best option, you can send your food waste to an authorised composting facility. Composting is usually best for garden waste or mixed food and garden waste.

Read WRAP’s guidance on food waste recycling for your business.

5.2. Animal food waste collections

You must use an APHA registered haulier or registered waste carrier to transport food waste that’s:

  • an animal by-product
  • catering waste

Find out about:

To find a facility that’s authorised to treat animal-derived food waste and catering waste:

5.3 Recovering waste food and its packaging

You can recover waste food by decanting or unwrapping it and recycling the packaging where possible.

This is known as ‘depackaging’. You need to remove any packaging that is not certified compostable before the food waste is digested or composted. You can only send depackaged waste for anaerobic digestion or composting if the processing site has a permit to treat food waste.

The T13: treating waste food exemption allows you to depackage without an environmental permit if you comply with the specific conditions of the exemption. The exemption does not cover the handling of animal by-products. However, it will allow you to handle, depackage and bulk up (store up to reduce transportation costs) specific waste types before further treatment.

6. Recover waste by landspreading

You can use compost and digestate as an organic fertiliser to spread on land (landspreading) if one of the following applies:

  • it meets the requirements of an environmental permit
  • it is certified end of waste compost of digestate
  • it can be demonstrated that the material has met the conditions in the end of waste test

The U10 waste exemption for spreading waste on agricultural land and the U11 waste exemption for spreading waste on non-agricultural land may apply in some circumstances.

You need to check the restrictions on spreading organic fertilisers on land. Find out more in the rules for farmers and land managers to prevent water pollution.

If you have a landspreading permit, read Landspreading to improve soil health.

7. Recover energy from waste

If you cannot recycle food waste, you can send your food waste to be recovered for energy, such as to be incinerated for energy recovery at an energy from waste (EfW) facility.

This will burn the food waste to generate energy, for example electricity and heat.

EfW is better than sending food waste to sewer or landfill because it has lower environmental impacts and costs of treatment.

8. Dispose - send to sewer and landfill

This is the least preferred option for food waste. You should only send food waste to sewer or landfill when there is no other alternative.

8.1 Landfill

The government has committed to exploring options for the near elimination of biodegradable municipal waste being sent to landfill sites from 2028. This commitment was made as part of the Net Zero Strategy.

Before sending any food waste to landfill, you should consider the alternative options in this hierarchy.

If you send food waste to landfill, the site must be permitted to accept biodegradable waste.

Before sending to landfill, you must pretreat or appropriately process:

  • catering waste (waste from catering sites, kitchens, canteens and restaurants)
  • food and drink waste from manufacturing that contain products of animal origin

This will ensure that your waste is safe.

You will have to pay Landfill Tax on biodegradable waste sent to landfill.

Find out how to dispose of waste to a landfill site.

Guidance on applying the waste hierarchy

You should also read the Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) guidance on applying the waste hierarchy.