Last week, we attended “The Elephant in Bin!,” a knowledge-sharing event focused on reducing food waste and increasing business profits in the Cairngorms. The event was co-hosted by Cairngorms Business Partnership, Zero Waste Scotland, Highland Good Food Partnership, and Cairngorms National Park Authority at the Macdonald Aviemore Resort, featuring Chef Gary Maclean. The event highlighted the need to reduce food waste within the Highland region to reduce our environmental impact and achieve net zero carbon emissions. Reducing food waste is also important to the work that we focus on at Highland Adapts: building resilience to current and future climate impacts. How can minimising food waste increase climate resilience in the Highlands? Keep reading to find out…


Climate change and nature loss threaten food production and distribution in the Highlands and, as a result, the region’s overall food security. Food security is defined as when “all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and preferences for an active and healthy life” (World Food Summit, 1996). Simply put, climate change threatens food security by changing both agriculture and trade conditions (FAO, 2015). This is true in Highland and across the globe. For example, changes to agriculture conditions include:

  • Change in rainfall and water availability
  • Increased frequencies of droughts, storms, floods, wildfires, sea level rise
  • Disruption of pollinator ecosystem services
  • Temperature, precipitation, and other effects on transportation and processing
  • Decreased livestock and crop resilience to diseases

… to name just a few (FAO, 2021).

Combatting food insecurity requires two different kinds of action: mitigation and adaptation. In this context, mitigation refers to the actions we need to take to limit climate change and support the natural environment. Greatly expanded efforts to respond to climate change are needed immediately to safeguard the capacity of food systems in the future. You can learn more about our food system’s environmental impacts and sustainable food practices here.

However, the climate has already changed and we are “locked in” to additional changes in the future, no matter how quickly we reduce our emissions and other environmental impacts (IPCC, 2022). That is why we need to adapt our food system to build greater resilience. Among other things, the resilience of Highland’s food system hinges on efficient resource management and sustainable practices.

Food Waste & Resilience

A resilient food system can provide sufficient, appropriate, and accessible food to everyone, in the face of various disturbances (Tendall et al., 2015). Food waste undermines long-term resilience by reducing the quantity of available nutrition and squandering economic resources needed to withstand shocks and external pressures from climate impacts (Bajzeli et al., 2020).

“Food loss and waste undermine the sustainability of our food systems. When food is lost or wasted, all the resources that were used to produce this food – including water, land, energy, labour and capital – go to waste. In addition, the disposal of food loss and waste in landfills, leads to greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to climate change. Food loss and waste can also negatively impact food security and food availability, and contribute to increasing the cost of food.” (UN, 2023).

Market shocks and extreme weather impacts can disrupt food availability, particularly in remote regions. Reducing food waste contributes to the conservation of natural resources, such as water and land, which are essential for agricultural productivity. By minimizing food waste, communities can stretch their resources further, mitigating the effects of these disruptions and ensuring a more stable food supply.

How are we doing?

Globally, nationally, and regionally, there is a lot more that we need do to limit food waste and reap the many benefits of a resource-efficient food system.

  • 26% of the waste in Highland household refuse bins is food waste that could have been eaten or composted (HCWP, n.d.)
  • Almost one million tonnes of food and drink is thrown away every year in Scotland (Scottish Government, 2022)
  • Food waste costs Scottish households an average of £440 per year (Scottish Government, 2022)
  • Food waste is responsible for 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions (Our World in Data, 2020)

Community-driven efforts, supported by businesses and policymakers, are vital for promoting sustainable food practices and reducing waste. From educating consumers to implementing food recovery programs, people in the Highlands are fostering a culture of efficiency within our food system, strengthening our adaptive capacity in the face of climate change. While not a singular solution, reducing food waste plays a crucial role in building a more resilient and sustainable future for Highland communities.

Resources for You

Whether you are a crofter, farmer, chef, or home cook, there are Highland-specific resources available to help you reduce food waste and maximise all of the strengths of Highland’s food system. Now sure where to start?