Food donations during the lockdown to combat food waste

Prior to the lockdown, the demand for surplus food had risen with an increasing dependence on food banks.

So, while the initial days of the lockdown saw a drop in donations owing to panic buying at supermarkets, the temporary closure of restaurants and pubs led to a surge in donations shortly after.

There was also a shift in focus towards food parcels rather than food for individual meals.

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The closure of hotels, schools and restaurants, however, means that wholesalers struggled to make use of all their stocks of vegetables, fruits, milk and meat. In fact, the Federation of Wholesale Distributors reported that as much as 20 million pounds worth of perishable food was lying in the warehouses at one point.

However, as it turns out, WRAP reported a 34% wastage reduction in four key food items such as milk, chicken, bread and potatoes. The UK citizens bought more fresh produce, more life-long products such as pasta, frozen peas and tinned tuna, and less pre-cut vegetable packs and ready-to-eat meals.

After reopening operations briefly, the UK has implemented a three-tier alert system with local lockdowns and nationwide restrictions. So, how can households and businesses continue to combat food waste? By following these practices:

1. Declutter the fridge

Everyone loves a well-stocked fridge. However, overfilling it with groceries could lead to forgetting about a good proportion of them, thus increasing food waste. UK households should be mindful about the quantities they purchase and ensure they place the new items at the back of the fridge. That way the older items don’t get forgotten and are used first.

2. Compost the leftovers

Sure, composting during the winters takes longer than usual but there is no reason why you can’t convert leftover food items into nutrition for plants. Guess what? UK households can compost even if they don’t have an outdoor garden.

Several countertop composting systems enable people to maintain household plants or small herb gardens indoors.

3. Use the freezer

Freezing is one of the simplest ways to preserve food. One can freeze extra portions from meals they cook so that they always have something to eat on days when they have the time to cook or don’t feel like cooking.

UK households should also use the freezer to store produce such as vegetables and fruits so that they don’t get spoiled and can later be used for making soups, broths and smoothies.

Combining excess herbs, garlic and olive oil and freezing them in an ice tray can make a tasty addition to salads and pastas.

4. Donate within the community

FareShare, UK’s biggest food redistribution charity, has reported that the volume of its weekly food donations has more than doubled since the coronavirus lockdown began in March 2020.

The organisation is known for redistributing good-quality surplus food from suppliers and supermarkets among nearly 11000 community groups and frontline charities – the equivalent of about one million meals every week.

They also provide essential items to regional food banks managed by The Trussell Trust and other local projects.

While a normal “good week” at FareShare would involve around 350 tonnes of food received through its 24 regional distribution centres, this went up to 711 tonnes per week after millions of food businesses were ordered to close during lockdown.

FareShare had to switch up its business model rapidly in response to the major disruptions in the food and beverage supply chain. One of their immediate actions was to streamline the channels of food distribution so that donations were collected on time even with fewer volunteers (owing to self-isolation).

UK households can also donate; use food sharing apps such as OLIO to connect with people who need food and other household products and give them the required items for free.

Businesses are also responsible

Going back to the example of FareShare – early this year, they partnered with two other major food distribution charities in London – the Felix Project and City Harvest – to form the London Food Alliance.

Together, they led a targeted response to emergency food requirements among Londoners during the lockdown, with each responsible for food redistribution among vulnerable communities in a designated borough.

Aided by a partnership with the British Red Cross, the alliance amassed over 1500 volunteers. FareShare’s primary supermarket partners continue to provide food supplies along with funding for logistics.

The Co-op convenience store chain, for instance, scrapped its Easter campaign for 2020 and spent the airtime convincing its viewers to donate to FareShare.

That shows supermarkets and food producers – irrespective of size – have the opportunity to dispose of their surplus food in a sustainable fashion, and they can do so by joining hands with a local charity.

Another option is via Anaerobic Digestion to combat food waste. The innovative technology, such as Waste2ES’s iD-R 5k systems, creates biogas as a by-product, which can further be used as an alternative fuel in CHP or Road Fuels, and reduce the greenhouse effect. What is it going to be for you? 

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