BEHIND THE SCENES
Waste Not, Want Not: Food Waste And The Ideas To Tackle It
By Alexa Scott-Dalgleish
Did you know that over a third of all food produced globally goes to waste? In the UK, this equates to approximately 9.5 million tonnes per year according to food action charity, WRAP, and is associated with 25 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and a £19 billion loss. With statistics like these, it comes as no surprise the level of environmental and socioeconomic concern the subject generates.
Yet as the extent and awareness of the problem grows, so too do those looking to find a solution. From composting and redistribution to careful advanced planning and creative re-imagination, we take a look at some of the most innovative solutions putting waste to work.
Composting is a natural and inexpensive process that turns leftover waste into plant nutrients and beneficial organisms. Simple to do, it can redirect a vast proportion of landfill-destined refuse and help to close the food waste loop by returning it back to agriculture. Along with home use, restaurants are also taking to composting including the likes of the Two Michelin Starred Sat Bains in Nottingham, which was the first in the country to introduce a composter to reduce food waste volume by up to 90% in 24 hours. A £150,000 investment into a garden plus a full-time gardener ensure every nutrient-rich gram of compost is put to good use, and has earned the restaurant a prestigious new distinction – the Michelin GREEN star.
On a larger scale, the self-proclaimed “Food Waste Farmer”, Igor Vaintraub, has created Indie Ecology, which collects food waste from over 80 restaurants in London. This is then composted and spread on his 10-acre farm in West Sussex to grow fresh, organic vegetables that find themselves back on the menu of the very same restaurants. It doesn’t get more circular than that.
Operating on the largest scale of all is Biffa, the UK’s leading national recycling and waste management provider, whose ‘Food for Fuel’ campaign composts plants through anaerobic digestion and turns it into green energy. This is then used to generate electricity and heat to power on-site equipment with surplus electricity exported to the National Grid to power local homes and businesses.
A huge proportion of waste thrown away is deemed to be, at best, avoidable, and, at worst, still perfectly edible. This means that both valuable food and money are going down the drain. Fareshare is a charity network that tackles this head-on with a scheme that redistributes surplus food to charities who transform it into nutritious meals for vulnerable people. Every week it supplies school breakfast clubs, older people’s lunch clubs, homeless shelters, and community cafes with enough food to create almost a million meals, in a bid to reduce the 8.4 million people in the UK who struggle to afford to eat.
Also in the business of food redistribution is anti-waste food app, Too Good To Go, which allows users to purchase unsold food at a reduced price from top eateries to prevent it from going to waste. Different categories such as Baked Goods, Fresh Greens, or Restaurants allow a level of choice when it comes to anticipating what you will get, but there’s always an element of surprise with its ‘Magic Boxes’ which are filled with whatever is leftover at the end of service!
‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ certainly rings true with these ideas, which see unwanted food turned into something entirely more desirable. Brighton Permaculture Trust’s Fruit Factory collects the fruit that goes unpicked or never leaves an orchard and turns it into juices, cider and chutneys. The process of stealing (or in this case, a better word might be ‘salvaging’) fruit is known as scrumping, and sees 40 tons of perfectly edible fruit in the surrounding area saved from going to waste a year.
A similar concept is Rubies in the Rubble, which operates under the tagline ‘Some say it’s a load of rubbish, we take that as a condiment’, and sells ketchups, relishes and vegan mayonnaises made from Covent Garden market and local farm’s fruit and vegetable rejects.
As with so much in life, planning is key to success and when it comes to food, this can be the most important factor in reducing what ends up in the dustbin. This is particularly important in restaurants, which reportedly contribute 199,100 tonnes of food waste and cost businesses £682 million per year! Doug McMaster, the chef at the world’s first zero-waste restaurant, Silo London, addresses this by creating recipes that use ingredients in their whole forms to ensure as much of them are eaten as possible. Over at Poco Tapas Bar in Bristol, ex-River Cottage chef and author, Tom Hunt, has crafted a menu equipped with built-in ‘rescue-recipes’ that put surplus food and by-products to use in other dishes. For example, excess mackerel (still in date) leftover from lunch might find itself the key component of a traditional Spanish escabeche on that evening’s dinner menu.
Image Credit: Silo London & Poco Tapas Bar Instagram
Looking Past Appearances
Good looks can get you far in life, particularly in the fruit and vegetable world where an estimated 25 per cent of apples and 20 per cent of onions grown in the UK find themselves rejected on purely cosmetic grounds.
Oddbox rescues this aesthetically-challenged-yet-equally-tasty produce from farms and delivers it to subscribers’ doors for a reduced price, with a variety of different box sizes to ensure customers get exactly the right amount. Certified as a B Corporation, the company also works with The Felix Project & City Harvest to help fight food poverty in London, donating approximately 5% of fruit and vegetables to those that need them most. A host of supermarkets in the UK have also cottoned onto the idea, with Lidl offering a 5kg box for just £1.50.
Landfill or Pigswill?
Wahaca co-founder and Masterchef winner, Thomasina Miers, has teamed up with food waste expert, Tristram Stuart, to call for a lift on the European law that prevents surplus food waste from food businesses being fed to pigs. The ban came into effect in 2001 following the outbreak of the Food & Mouth Disease, which was linked to the (illegal) feeding of unprocessed restaurant waste to pigs on a farm in the UK.
Known as The Pig Idea, the campaign argues that a repeat of such a thing would be avoided with new legislation, requiring all surplus food to be processed in a specialist heat and acidification treatment plant with strict bio-security measures. If permitted, it asserts that the ‘common-sense’ approach will tackle not only the problem of where to send food waste, but will also slow deforestation caused by soy production in the Amazon and free up the percentage of crops (36%) used to feed animals for human consumption.
Alexa is the Content Manager at Talia Collective. Previously, she worked for a top travel PR firm with a focus on sustainability in London, before moving to Madrid to learn Spanish and cut her teeth as a freelance travel copywriter and PR consultant.