Waste not, want not

Declan Allison

09 December 2016

Food waste is now all the rage.

The sheer scale of the waste, local, national, and global, juxtaposed so sharply with food banks and world hunger, has hopefully brought it to a tipping point in western consciousness. The numbers are vast; 1.3 bt or a third of what is produced wasted globally, while 795m people have inadequate quantities of food.

WRAP research has provided us with a total of 14.8mt UK food and drink waste. They found that 10mt are post-farm and 7mt of these wasted in our homes. Worse, over 50% of household food waste was still edible when chucked. 

Through “love food hate waste” WRAP campaigns to prevent the average family throwing away £700 of food and all its embodied carbon, water, and other resources annually. Useful buying, cooking, and storing advice can only help our wildly consumerist society take responsibility and do their bit. It’s starting to work: 2007-12, usable food waste reduced by 21% - that’s 23 million wheelie bins.

If your maths is up to speed, you’ll realise that leaves a 7.8mt UK waste food mountain; target of the Stop the Rot campaign. The UK only redistributes 2% of its retail waste where France diverts 20 times the volume we do. Despite this, and some supermarkets persuaded by Stop the Rot to publish the amount they waste, UK retailers are still pushing the problem down the food chain to the farmer.

The Courtauld Agreement puts the UK on track to reduce food waste by half, in accordance with UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3. It now includes on-farm waste and is projected to reach a 30% reduction from 2009 level by 2025. However, it is a voluntary agreement. Stop the Rot wants to see regulation plus a 30% reduction against 2016, as advocated by Kerry McCarthy’s 2015 Food Waste Reduction bill.

Meanwhile, multiple visionaries have been working hard to buck the trend. The Real Junk Food project, a mushrooming network of 43 social franchise cafés, has established deals with certain supermarkets whose rescued “waste” it cooks, allowing diners to pay as they feel. Silo in Brighton is a regular restaurant with a difference, their cooking and dining style aims for zero waste. FoodCycle has 29 outlets where volunteers use spare kitchens to cook surplus food for those in social isolation or poverty. From Farm to Fork is the Feedback and FoodCycle initiative to train 4000 to glean and cook veg at local charities.

Only FareShare, who collate and distribute damaged dry goods donated by supermarkets to local charities, exists in Northern Ireland.

The response to food insecurity is surely not to reach for fossil fuelled, GM, and chemical fertilizer farming. While such would just add to the vicious cycle of reduced biodiversity, soil degradation and dependence on food miles, reducing the amount of global food waste by 25%, would provide enough to feed everyone.

Sacha Workman is the Growing Together Consultant at Federation Of City Farms and Community Gardens.