The Food Waste Dialogue

Many of us have heard and read the news over the past week; food waste isn’t slowing down, in-fact, it’s increasing. A blow given the efforts that have been made to combat the issue and how seemingly far we felt we had come. The debate and efforts are blazing but something still isn’t right; there are food waste fighting apps such as CogZum and Olio, high profile campaigns led by inspirational groups such as Feedback and an active industry passionate about promoting better food utilisation. So what’s going on?

For me, there are two issues. Narrative and policy.


The discussion around the subject is too big. Endless statistics and statements about families wasting £700 a year, the 4.4% rise in household waste taking us from 7 million tonnes to 7.3 million tonnes, is not hitting the mark. Even to me, someone who is very clued up on the subject, struggles with digesting such numbers. Why? Because those statements are unrelatable to me as an individual. I do not know what 7.3 million tonnes looks like, I cannot pinpoint or attribute £700 to anything. The narrative does not reach me or make me feel like I can, or need, to do anything.

The scale of our discussion needs more detail, it needs intricately thought out dialogue and examples that are accessible and actually make us think about the role we play as an individual. One rule doesn’t apply to all, we all waste in our own way, and in so, we ought to be trying to understand our contribution to waste on an individual basis and how that contributes to the bigger picture issue.

Scale Down…

Take a cucumber for instance. I buy a whole cucumber at the current average price of 79 pence. I use half. The other half sits in my fridge for 3 days and lo and behold it has become slimey. I throw it away. That’s 39.5 pence thrown away. What if I did this every week? That’s £20.54 a year on cucumber thrown into the bin, which could have been spent on a couple bottles of wine. I know which I prefer.

Do this for other things by looking at what is going into the bin and you start to build up a personal idea of what it is that is being wasted, and in so, start thinking about how you can adapt that behaviour. Build awareness of the subject through personal encounters and expand from there.

To Scale Up

I’ve learnt to waste less through learning more about food itself. Through enhancing cooking skills and building a “connection” to the food system. Through learning about food and cooking I’ve attained skills of adaptability, and the notions of value and respect. If I see something looking a little worse for wear, I’ll incorporate it into something through experimenting or researching. Through experimenting and research I’ve learn how to build longevity into my food resources and store in effective ways; such as placing heads of lettuce in a bowl of water, or re-growing spring onions and leeks.

You see what’s happening here? Start small, bottom-up through real encounters, and things start naturally progressing from there. Our current narrative feels prescriptive and instructive, perhaps we have been missing the mark with statistics and “leftover recipes” and instead we should be focusing on the tools people need to make informed assessments of their part in this issue and the skills needed to adapt to it?


Policy, isn’t my forte, and I don’t know enough to make a full assessment. What I do know, is that there is a notable lack when compared to other countries that are leading the way. Look at what France, Italy and the Netherlands are doing. The dialogue is there, but actual tangible policy led plans and organisational accountability is absent. For instance, at the moment, supply chain waste reduction is based on voluntary initiatives. How is that working out for us? Not well given the rise in food waste despite the efforts, buy-in and media coverage.

But then theres the issue of the what to do with food when waste happens. If waste is going to happen then its best that waste is diverted into use through recycling and composting. But many councils still do not offer accessible composting and recycling initiatives. We’re on 6 bins in my borough; 3 for recycling, 1 for general waste, 1 green waste and a new one in April for food waste. Like many councils, green and food are collected together every 2 weeks, in the summer this is a nightmare. Couple that with terraced houses or flats with little storage space for these bins, it becomes easier to see why theres a struggle with uptake. Our waste management methods need a radical re-think. A re-think that moves the topic of waste out of the realm of being a chore and time-consuming, to one that is easy, accessible, isn’t a burden and maybe even fun?

A Solution

I’ve toyed with ideas on what could be done, it’s a hard one. I’ve often wondered if a collaborative approach could work, communal composting and recycling bins at the ends of our roads, or somehow using technology to create hyperlocal waste management systems. In most things we often scale up but what if the answer is actually scaling down?

Anyways, off for a pint now. Also, how about signing this petition?  

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