Food waste – the bigger picture

FareShare volunteers loading van with foodDon't be a silly sausage. Help us fight hunger and food waste.

7 August 2018

When it comes to food waste we like to think we know the bigger picture.

Those old images of the European tomato mountain being bulldozed into the ground. That discarded slice of pizza littering the street. The mouldy lettuce we’ve hastily hurled into the pedal bin.

Well think again.

Imagine boxes and boxes of fresh peaches, avalanching off the end of a tipper truck. Or crates of carrots barrelling into landfill. Or wonky but still crunchy vegetables being fed to livestock. Or scrumptious sourdough bread and superior cakes being turned into fuel.

The UN estimates that roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted; and they also estimate that this food waste amounts to about £522 billion.

This waste is happening every day.

Britain’s surplus food could be caused by anything from over-production, packaging malfunctions, labelling errors, over supply due to favourable growing conditions to unexpected changes in demand or short shelf life.

And the food itself could become surplus right across the food supply chain - from growers to manufacturers to retailers.

What all this food has in common is that it is all edible. And every year in the UK at least 250,000 tonnes of it is dumped in landfill, turned into biofuel or ground up into animal feed,* while the UN estimates that 8.4 million people in the UK are in food poverty.**

But FareShare, Britain’s biggest charity dedicated to the redistribution of surplus food, is doing something about it

The charity Crisis – best-known at the time for its Christmas shelters for the homeless – got together with the supermarket industry in 1994 to open a warehouse to take surplus food that would otherwise have gone to waste, and FareShare was born.

Twenty four years later FareShare has 21 regional centres with 800 volunteers packing, sorting and checking the 17,000 tonnes of quality surplus food that they receive from 500 food companies each year, and delivering this food to thousands of frontline charities and community groups up and down the country.

Children’s breakfast clubs, day clubs for older people, domestic violence refuges, homeless shelters and drug and alcohol rehab units – they all help to feed over 770,000 people in need every week with surplus food from FareShare.

That’s 36 million meals a year and a saving of over £28 million to the charity sector.

But because the UK still diverts tonnes of its surplus food to landfill, or animal feed, or anaerobic digestion, the waste goes on.

But what does this waste actually look like?

It is 200,000 tonnes of milk. It is 160,000 tonnes of meat, poultry and fish and 130,000 jars of jam, peanut butter and beans.

If the UK’s surplus 200,000 tonnes of milk (the equivalent measurement of all dairy products) were made into 1kg blocks of cheddar cheese, then it would mean discarding 200 million of them. And if you can’t imagine that, picture 156,250 Ford Focus cars, which is the equivalent weight.

When it comes to the bigger picture on wasted food, tragically that picture is very big indeed.

If you want to reduce the picture, then sign up to volunteer with FareShare at www.fareshare.org.uk/volunteer

*Figures from WRAP, Quantification of food surplus, 2016

**Figures from FAO UN, Voices of the Hungry, 2016