Food waste – the other side of the food security conversation?

By Annie Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

'We don’t judge, we’re just here to help,' says food waste project
'We don’t judge, we’re just here to help,' says food waste project

Related tags Food

It is not about judging companies on waste but joining the dots between businesses with surplus food and charities in need of donations, according to UK charity Plan Zheroes.

There are 13 million people living in poverty in the UK, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and 650,000 tonnes of edible food thrown away by food businesses a year. This is the paradox driving Plan Zheroes, a three-year-old food charity that seeks to connect food businesses and charities with its new map platform.

The charity works with over 400 food businesses including restaurants, catering companies, cafes, food shops, schools, supermarkets, hotels and food markets and a network of 375 charities.

Jacopo Valsecch, project coordinator for the charity and self-proclaimed sustainable consumption advocate, told us: “Some people aren’t interested, but we don’t judge. But there are a lot of people who are very keen. The secret is to find a person inside the company to champion the project.”

Asked if there was too much focus on upping production within the discourse of food security, and not enough on what was happening with the quantity already produced, Valsecch said: “My personal opinion is that we do produce a lot, and we waste a lot. We always want fruit, for example, to be perfectly round.”

However he reiterated: “We don’t judge, we’re just here to help.”

On a wider scale, the European Federation of Food Banks (FEBA) cited Danone, Kellogg’s, Nestle, Unilever and Kraft Foods as some of the food giants donating to the service. Charities like this have said the number of people using such food banks​ has risen considerably since the start of the economic recession, and as a result questions have been raised about how food firms can help to ease both this growing pressure on the third sector and address their own issues of wastage. 

The logistics behind the idea

The food covered by the scheme was described as good enough to eat, but no longer commercially viable. Most of the food donated was relatively low risk in terms of potential health risks, such as bakery, fruit and vegetables.

Both businesses and charities sign an agreement before participating. For the business this states that the food donations comply with health and safety standards for which guidance and training is available.

For the charity, they must agree to take full responsibility for the food once it is collected, and thereafter health and safety standards must be followed.

Valsecch said most people were happy about the agreement as it clarified this issue of liability, and added that this was based on the platform used by café chain Pret a Manger to donate surplus sandwiches around the UK.

However, he conceded that this remained a potential challenge when getting new businesses on board.

When the food is selected by a charity, it may be delivered by the business itself, collected by the charity or coordinated by a team of volunteers recruited by Plan Zheroes. The ultimate goal is to have area managers for this, yet the project currently receives all its funding through private donations and grants.

The bigger picture

Focused now on London, Plan Zheroes also has a partner in Brighton and plans to expand to Liverpool, Sheffield and Cambridge. The potential dissemination of the idea was global, he said, since it was based on the simple idea of an interactive map.

The project is supported by the Mayor of London’s FoodSave programme, which provides free support to help small and medium sized food businesses in London cut food waste and divert surplus to good causes.

A similar scheme was launched last year in Ireland by Bia Food Initiative, a non-profit food surplus redistribution organisation.

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