Last month I helped served 160 wedding guests a three-course meal, with canapés and drinks, all from food deemed ‘unfit for human consumption’. We made delicious quiches using 360 rescued eggs that were heading for landfill, a day past their best before date; veggie masala using potatoes, carrots, cauliflowers and onions that also had best before dates on them; and another tomato curry from pallets of hundreds of juicy, slightly squashed tomatoes. We served buck’s fizz from M&S, six months past its best before date, and puddings with fruit that had travelled half way across the globe to be wasted.
REfUSE is Durham’s branch of The Real Junk Food Project: an organic network of 127 cafés around the UK and the world that all work on the same model: rescuing food from retailers, caterers, charities, farms and wholesalers before it goes to waste, and serving it up to the public on a ‘Pay As You Feel’ basis. Since its inception in 2014, the network has saved over 2,000 tonnes of food from the bins and fed around 300,000 people. Along with a force of other organisations, activists and campaigners, we’ve raised awareness of the injustice of food waste at every level, from households and families to big businesses, supermarket directors and government decision makers.
We know we’re just at the tip of the iceberg. Approximately 10 million tonnes of food and drink is wasted in the UK every year, with a value of £17 billion. This contributes to around 20 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, and around 60 per cent of wastage is avoidable and could have been consumed.
Last year, I was invited to be a consultant for the Co-Op, advising and working on their ambition to see that ‘no food fit for human consumption goes to waste’. Working on the inside of a huge company like this, I came to understand why policy changes can take so long to implement. But, I also saw that the noises made by the general public, activists, tweeters, and customer feedback letters are really heard and taken seriously. The grassroots things we do as consumers, even as small as choosing to buy the veggie option sandwich for lunch, is noticed and acted upon at policy level.
The ‘Goliath’ supermarket giants are at the mercy of their customers, and they can be toppled by the consumer choices each of us ‘Davids’ make. I’ve been campaigning on this issue for five years, and in that time I’ve seen a massive change: where before supermarkets would deny food waste happened, brush us aside, lock their bins or pour bleach to spoil the food, now almost all of them admit there is an issue. Tesco and Sainsbury’s publish their food waste data. M&S has started rolling out a scheme to add one month to produce going past its use by date by freezing it on day of expiry and donating it to local charities in polystyrene boxes. Sainsbury’s is giving millions to local authorities around the country to run ‘Waste Less, Save More’ projects that aim to address household food waste. Many supermarkets have signed up to the Courtauld 2025 Agreement, committing to reduce their food waste by 20 per cent by 2025.
But there’s further to go. A number of supermarket chains are yet to have a food redistribution scheme in place for their back of store surplus, some denying they have any at all. Where others have redistribution schemes, their effectiveness varies hugely store to store, and there is a lack of any consistent method to measure and publish food waste data.
There is no national mandatory food waste target and not enough pressure on retailers to be transparent with their food waste data. Retailers say they only contribute to a small percentage of overall UK food waste, however they have a huge influence and responsibility. From date labelling and information on packaging, to fair practices working with farmers, manufacturers, and suppliers to reduce waste in their supply chains. They all need to stand up and make some common-sense changes to stop waste happening in the first place, not hide behind PR messages or lay blame on others.
Food waste poses a huge environmental and social threat on a global scale. At the same time it offers one of the biggest opportunities for reducing our environmental impact whilst increasing food availability where it is needed most. We have power as consumers to change the conversation with supermarkets. Join the movement and campaign with us; we will make it happen.
Ask your local supermarket what they are doing to reduce food waste by taking this action.