In the UK, almost 15 million tonnes of food gets thrown away every year. Almost 50% of this waste happens in our homes, with the rest mainly happening in supermarkets.
For most, it’s an overwhelming problem, and one that is easy to turn a blind eye to in London – the city where food seems to flow infinitely. But a quick walk down any main street here will shed light on where this seemingly endless stream comes to an abrupt end.
Homelessness in London has doubled in the past five years. These people occupy nearly every corner, and somehow, this food doesn’t make it into their mouths. To do anything less than everything humanly possible to drastically reduce and redirect this incredible waste is nothing short of abusing those people, and others around the world who continue to go hungry.
Ways of tackling this mammoth problem are wide and varied – from schemes where supermarkets donate their wasted food to charity (emerging last year in France) to apps like OLIO that allow users to connect with their local community and give away food they will waste. Innovative ideas are always emerging.
But 15 million tonnes is no small weight, and while the government and the supermarkets twiddle their thumbs and scratch their heads over the solutions, grassroots initiatives can step in and show what can be done with just a tiny fraction of this waste.
Save The Date is just one that is doing this. Starting out as a pay-as-you-feel café based in Dalston serving meals made from surplus food back in 2014, they now operate from Hive Dalston, running a pay-as-you-feel supermarket from Wednesday to Friday that provides the local community with organic fruit and veg that would usually be destined for landfill.
Much of the produce on display would not look out of place on the shelves of Whole Foods – the only difference being that it is 100% surplus food donated to them by local businesses, costing whatever you feel like you can afford. Like many initiatives housed by Hive Dalston, this is a truly community-centric project where social justice outweighs the desire for profit.
The scale of food waste can make an effort like Save The Date that tackles it on a small scale seem insignificant, almost pointless. But it is the ripple effect that comes in to play here. A project like Save The Date creates the first ripple by exposing just how ridiculous the waste is.
In the minds of many, food heading to the landfill is rotten, dirty and inedible. But in reality, much of this food is not only completely edible, but also healthy and delicious – as seen at both Save The Date’s café and supermarket. When visitors witness this, they will hopefully begin to feel something about the problem and begin tackling waste in their own life. That is where the ripples start spreading.
Projects like Save The Date set an example of what can be done with wasted food, but how we bring this into our own lives is where the change really begins. The ways which we can do this are endless, and anything is better than nothing.
Simply exercising caution when following sell by dates is a good place to start. Many of them hold little bearing on whether or not food is actually edible, particularly if it is a ‘best before’ or a ‘display until’ date. We can also make sure we are not buying more food than we need or putting any more on our plate that we are able to eat.
If something really is going to be wasted, make use of OLIO, the app which allows you to share food you are going to waste with your local community. Failing that, simply offer it to neighbours, friends and colleagues. Or even put it out at the front of the house for people to help themselves.
Individual steps are where the change starts, but inspiring others to take the same steps is where it continues – that is why sharing and supporting projects and campaigns that confront food waste is also crucial. Save The Date, Food Not Bombs, FareShare, FoodCycle and The Ugly Fruit And Veg Campaign are just a few of these.
Ruth and James who started Save The Date have set an incredibly inspiring example of ways we can creatively tackle food waste and spread ripples of awareness. But the most important thing is that those ripples reach our government, who as it stands have the power to create policies that will tip the problem one way or the other. Let’s make sure it’s the right way, and in the meantime, don’t forget to lick your plates clean.