Updated: Mar 13
It’s Food Waste Action Week! And it’s time to step up to the plate and start cutting food waste. (Sorry, the pun potential here is endless).
Food waste is an enormous problem, and for Zero Carbon Guildford, as an organisation set-up to help Guildford hit its 2030 carbon neutrality target, reducing food waste has to be a major focus in our strategy. In fact, food waste has become such a problem that 8-10% of man-made greenhouse gases are generated by food waste!
Trewin Restorick of Hubbub highlights how serious the food waste issue is...“If food waste was a country, it would be the world’s third biggest contributor to climate change.’’ In other words, an entirely avoidable problem generates more emissions globally than every...single...country in the world with the exception of the US and China.
So it's clear why eliminating food waste should play a major role in any community climate action plan. In this article we’re going to look at why food waste is such a problem, how Zero Carbon Guildford will aim to tackle food waste as an emissions reduction strategy, and how you can eliminate food waste at home.
How Much Food Waste Is Generated Annually?
From a purely selfish point of view, the first thing you should know is that the average UK household throws away £610 worth of food every year! Imagine what you could do with £610 instead of sending it to your little green bin. (You could buy a new fridge, though we suggest you keep reading to find out how to win one instead!).
But food waste is a much wider-ranging problem than us occasionally binning some old veg we’ve lost at the back of the fridge. So much so that repurposing food waste from industrial agriculture would be enough to eradicate global hunger!
That's not hyperbole. 30% of food production goes straight to waste - that’s about $1 TRILLION every year, and enough to feed the 800m people who go to bed hungry every night.
Food is wasted at every stage of the cycle, from growing and harvesting, through selection by retailers, to waste by homes and restaurants. If you’ve never considered what a monumental problem food waste is lettuce highlight some key stats (and yes fine we’ll stop with the puns).
There is a smidgen of good news. Over the last 3 years domestic food waste has come down by 7%, thanks to awareness campaigns by groups like WRAP and Love Food Hate Waste. But during the same period food waste has grown by 6% in retail, and by 7% in the restaurant industry.
So it's clear that to tackle the greenhouse gas emissions from food waste we need a wide-ranging strategy incorporating all parts of the food cycle.
Zero Carbon Guildford’s Food Waste Plan
Firstly, if you are passionate about eliminating food waste we would love for you to get in touch with us and join our food waste projects. The entire point of the ZCG project is to build a community climate action plan. So we need people from right across the Guildford community to bring their ideas and inspiration to our strategy.
We’re still fleshing out the bones of our food waste reduction plan, so if you’ve got an idea to cut food waste then maybe we can help you make it reality and build it into our strategy? For now, these are some of the ways we hope to help cut food waste across the borough…
Community fridges are points throughout a town or city where food is offered for free to those who need it. The beauty of this is the fridge can help to reduce food waste. We collect the food that’s nearing the end of its shelf life, stock up our fridge, and anyone who needs it can pop in and take a meal for the family, or a snack after school.
The food is perfectly safe, edible, and as tasty as it has ever been. It may not even be within a day or two of its ‘use by’, before supermarkets remove it from the shelf to make way for new stock. This in itself is a problem and something we’ll address in the next point.
Zero Carbon Guildford will be looking to partner with Mid Surrey Community Fridges, who are saving 8 tonnes of food waste every week across their Surrey community fridge network! We’ll be looking to join Co-op’s Food Share programme, to take food waste from the Co-op stores in the borough to stock our community fridge, providing a dual solution of providing food for those who need whilst slashing food waste emissions.
As mentioned, food waste is increasing in the retail sector. This is unacceptable, and if your local supermarket isn’t running a food waste scheme like Co-ops Food Share you should start pestering them to adopt one!
You may think ‘oh they’re too big, they won’t listen to me’. But if enough people demand action on food waste, and shop elsewhere, the supermarkets will soon start to listen. People power was very visible here in Guildford at the end of last summer, when Sainsbury’s applied to chop down 60-odd trees to make room for a lorry park. But they withdrew the application after residents and local groups organised against the destruction of natural habitats - even Brian May got involved!
In a way, community organising around food waste allows supermarkets to keep getting away with the horrific food-waste practices that many of them are guilty of. So whilst stopping the food going to waste is the correct thing to do, it needs to be accompanied by pressure on the supermarket to abandon the wasteful practices around cosmetic appearance and best before dates that are driving food waste issues.
We will be platforming and devising campaigns to push supermarkets to commit to reducing food waste. There’s no acceptable excuse as to why supermarkets should be throwing out thousands of tons of perfectly good food whilst people go hungry.
Food shortages are a serious threat to the UK as the climate crisis escalates. We import about 50% of the food we eat. But as rising temperature and desertification reduce the amount of farmable land available, and food exporting countries look to protect their own populations, we are at risk of a heavily disrupted food supply. This isn’t a worse case scenario, this exact thing happened after the 2009 financial crisis, just on a much smaller scale than climate-related issues.
As such, ZCG will be providing guidance on vertical farming as a means to combat food insecurity. Vertical farming towers can be installed pretty much anywhere, and can help build ‘food sovereignty’ for individuals, and maybe, if we can get enough people on board, provide a safety net for the most vulnerable in our community during times of crisis.
Growing your own food means you can significantly cut waste by only taking what you need for any particular meal, whilst the rest of your veg keeps growing ready for picking later in the week! ZCG has received a grant from Transition Network for a mini vertical farming installation. We’ll use it to provide practical guidance on how you can become veg-self-sufficient, cut food waste, and help provide fresh veg to the community. Watch this space!
What Can You Do To Tackle Food Waste At Home
So what can you do about food waste in your own home? Here are our top tips to help you set off on your zero food waste journey.
1. PLAN! PLAN! PLAN!
Planning costs nothing, and is the most effective way to cut waste, by far. It’ll help you save money at the shops because you’ll only buy what you need, instead of falling prey to the devilish 'eye-level = buy-level' style cunning tricks supermarkets play on you.
Planning your meals in advance will also help you cook the right amount of food so that it all gets eaten, or help you double-up potions so that you can freeze half to give yourself a night off cooking later in the week.
Finally, proper meal planning will also ensure you know when food need eating by, avoiding out of date food being chucked out.
REMEMBER! There’s a difference between ‘Use By’ and‘Best Before’. Image c/o Love Food Hate Waste
2. Donate To A Community Fridge
We’ve already discussed our plans for a Guildford town centre community fridge, but you can help further eliminate food waste by donating to the fridge. If your meal planning hits a bump in the road (who doesn’t throw themselves off schedule with the odd take-away cheat meal) and you have food which you’re not going to eat before it goes bad, donate it to our community fridge.
Similarly, if you’re passing the ‘reduced section’ and you can spare a few quid, rescue some of the items that are going to end up in the dumpster and give them a new home in our community fridge!
Guildford got its first community fridge in early 2020, up in Park Barn, one of 4 areas of the borough in the most severe bracket of food poverty. So if you know you're going to struggle to get through your weekly shop it's a great place to take your excess food to.
3. Wonky Veg
One of the reasons that so much food is wasted between farm and shop is supermarkets' ludicrous ‘appearance’ rules. If a piece of fruit or veg doesn’t meet the strict criteria for visual aesthetics, it goes straight to waste. (and again, this should be a key point for campaigners tackling waste by supermarkets).
Fired up to take on this criminal waste of food, start-ups like OddBox and Wonky Veg Boxes have taken the initiative and started connecting directly with farmers, collecting any less-than-perfect veg, and distributing it in via delivery veg box schemes to help cut waste.
It’s packaging-free, locally sourced (low transport emissions), fresh fruit and veg being that you're saving from the dump because of irrelevant cosmetic ‘defaults’.
4. Eat The Lot!
We’ve all been chastised by an elderly relative for not finishing what’s on our plate. Older generations have likely have grown up with the war-time mantra of ‘waste-not want-not’ hanging over them. Food was never taken for granted, and many of the older generation used all available food in imaginative ways.
Sadly, our convenient and consumerist lifestyles mean we’ve lost that mentality, and as a result we’re throwing away 10bn meals every year. But like all classics, waste-not want-not is making a come back!
Using the ‘scrap’ parts of food can help keep your food bin empty, can cut down on packaging, and make you more adventurous in the kitchen!
Potato peels baked with salt make surprisingly delicious, packaging-free, home-made crisps! Chard stems can be turned into a creamy gratin. Whilst brassica stalks and cores can be used for fermenting or kimchi! Search online for more ‘waste away’ cooking tips, and if you’ve got inventive ways to reduce waste when cooking please share them with us - maybe we could launch a scrap-food cookbook!
5. When All Else Fails - FREEZE
On the odd occasion when you take your eye off the ball, make use of your freezer! It’s the no-waste champion of any home.
Freezing left overs means you don’t have to eat the same thing 2 days in a row (a true ‘first-world-problem’ when you consider how many people go to bed hungry, but one most of us are guilty of nevertheless), and won't spend your weekend chucking out half-eaten tupperwares of that week's meals.
Most importantly, you can save your veg from going off by blanching it and putting it in the freezer until you can eat it. It won’t bring dead veg back to life, but it will stop it from spoiling any further and stay in good condition if you catch it before it starts turning.
Take The Food Waste Challenge!
If you’re looking for a structured way to dive straight into cutting down on food waste, Love Food Hate Waste is hosting a ‘food waste challenge’ as part of Food Waste Action Week, and you could bag yourself a new A+ efficiency Hisense fridge.
The challenge runs during Food Waste Action Week (1st - 9th March), but you could take it on any time, challenge your friends and family, and spread the word about food waste.
Fridge aside, the main prize for eliminating food waste is a habitable planet for future generations. We’re sailing dangerously close to several global climatic tipping points, and it’s on all of us to start reducing waste and emissions as fast as possible, whilst pushing for an overhaul of the destructive systems that are driving ecological collapse and climate breakdown. In the case of food waste, that's often for no reason other than Supermarkets telling us that we shouldn’t be eating crooked carrots.