The UK has long been fighting against food waste, and yet still, about 9.5 million tonnes of food get discarded every year. As the COVID-19 lockdown began last year and restaurants and pubs were forced to shut shop, that number only stood to rise.
The start of the lockdown in April saw considerable amounts of waste, with takeaway restaurants discarding about £148 pounds worth of food each week as food supply chains were disrupted.
The total cost to the industry was about £16.7 million, and with worsening numbers come additional environmental and financial consequences as typically, the wasted food gets sent to landfill.
Donations and charities come to rescue
In a bid to prevent food waste and provide food to those deprived of it, several UK charities and mobile apps have been stepping up to take charge of food surpluses.
In another important example, DGM Growers in Kent were left with three truckloads worth of the root vegetable celeriac after restaurants shut down.
They promptly sent the celeriac over to Fareshare, a charity that redistributes discarded or leftover food to 11,000 community groups and charitable organisations across the UK.
Other significant donations to Fareshare included 1000 tons of baking potatoes intended for the hospitality sector and about one million litres of semi-skimmed milk packed into skimmed milk containers by mistake.
Before the lockdown, Fareshare was supplying about 900,000 meals per week to homeless shelters, community cafes and food banks — a number that shot up to an average of about 2.2 million per week during the lockdown, with a peak of 3.6 million per week.
To incentivise more supermarkets and wholesalers to donate their surplus food instead of discarding it, Fareshare has opened a fund called ‘Surplus with Purpose’ that pays food suppliers for donations.
Use of food sharing apps on the rise
In addition to charities, several entrepreneurs have come up with apps to redistribute surplus food. For instance, OLIO allows both households and businesses to give away their surplus groceries or readymade food to homeless shelters, charities or families experiencing food insecurity.
Another app called Too Good To Go allows customers to buy surplus food from supermarkets and wholesalers at a significant discount. For instance, Creed Foodservices used the app to sell leftover packets of pigs in blankets worth £15.00 apiece at just £5.00. They also sold £30.00 worth of tonic water, brie, cheese, and pasta sauce at just £10.00.
Wholesalers in the hospitality sector also redistribute their food via charities and apps during the lockdown and are likely to continue doing so in a bid to offset the significant losses they all faced last year.
How the UK can reduce its food waste levels
1. Households should purchase only what is needed
It can be tempting to buy extra food items at the supermarket. But often, this leads to unused food piling up at home. Instead, it is essential to buy only the items and the quantities necessary for the week.
2. Be flexible about 'best before dates'
Many people still do not know that ‘best before’ dates on food packages are not always an indicator of spoiled food.
‘Use by’ dates are different and should be abided by as they indicate that a food item may no longer be safe to eat. They are usually seen on items like meats.
Certainly with ‘best before’ food items, you can carefully look at the food and give it a sniff. If it smells bad, it is no longer fit to eat, but if it smells and looks fine, then the likelihood is, it will be fine.
On the other hand, food producers can also inform consumers about the difference between ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ packaging dates. That way, functional food items would not get thrown out unnecessarily.
3. Check the temperature of the fridge
Often, food goes rotten simply because the fridge temperature could be too warm for safe storage. The ideal fridge temperature needs to be set between three and five degrees Celsius. Storing all food items in the refrigerator’s appropriate compartments will also help households preserve them for longer.
1. Adjust order quantities
Food retailers and restaurants can adopt agile stock management techniques to order their supplies per demand forecasts. This also involves keeping stock of which items are selling out quickly and which ones are accumulating.
Retailers should also stay in regular touch with their suppliers so that orders can be placed and fulfilled promptly to meet any peak demand during the week or month.
2. Store food strategically
Often, food gets spoilt because it has not been stored properly. Food businesses can adopt strategies like using older items first, labelling supplies with the dates on which they were delivered, using airtight containers to store food, freezing perishable items, and using up leftovers or wonky-looking produce creatively in new dishes like soups or sauces.
3. Make the most of technology
Mobile apps for food sharing and redistribution can efficiently solve the problem of what to do with leftovers and extra supplies. These apps will collect the excess food from restaurants and supermarkets and distribute it to homeless shelters or care packages for families with low food security. This not only helps address the hunger problems but also keeps food out of landfills.
Over to you
The UN estimates the food production of the world will double by 2050. That means more support will be required to optimise food consumption collectively. If your business is involved with food waste, please get in touch with us to know more about our systems. Cut costs, generate power and more importantly, do good!