There is a growing awareness that 15 million tons of food wasted in the UK each year isn’t ok.
But waste isn’t the only problem: our diets affect the climate.
Eating sustainably could achieve a 25% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions across the EU food supply chain. It’s vital that we learn how to eat seasonally and locally, and we need infrastructure and initiatives to help us do that.
Eating local has added benefits too; creating the networks needed to source and distribute food also builds communities, as some of the projects profiled below demonstrate.
So, in no particular order, here are 10 top food sustainability initiatives bringing creativity and food together to tackle social and environmental problems.
Soleshare was founded in 2013 and uses the proven success of veg box schemes to bring responsibly sourced fish to our doors. You simply choose how much seafood you want, how often you want it (either once per week or once every two weeks), the style in which you would like it prepared (either whole just as it came off the boat or cleaned and prepared for cooking) and the location at which you will pick it up. Soleshare buys everything that the local fishermen catch and does not involve processors or wholesalers. Run by a marine biologist, an aquatic ecologist, and a fisherman, this is an initiative operated by knowledgeable locals who are fully committed to providing a sustainable product. Supplying seasonal fish varieties, Soleshare only sources from small, inshore fishermen who use environmentally-friendly techniques such as static nets and handlines. Soleshare also includes recipes and preparation tips to help build consumer’s skills and confidence when preparing the catch.
This initiative ticks all the boxes: ending food waste, building skills, and bringing social benefits. By combining surplus food with volunteers who need skill-building opportunities, FoodCycle converts surplus food into meals for the vulnerable, isolated, and elderly. FoodCycle was started in 2009 and has served over 1 million meals savings over 400,000kg of food waste in the process
The pun-tastic name isn’t the only clever thing about this initiative; the Pig Idea’s premise is the brilliantly simple fact that pigs can be a cost-effective, safe and environmentally-friendly method of dealing with our food waste. Currently, pigs are fed largely on soy grown in the Amazon which causes wide-scale deforestation. The Pig Idea wants the EU ban on feeding waste to pigs over-turned, with regulations put in place to ensure safe sustainable food practices. The list of names backing the campaign is impressive, including food waste campaigner Tristram Stuart, chef Yotam Ottolenghi, and television presenter Philip Schofield.
A pioneer of the sustainable food scene, Growing Communities started out with its organic veg box scheme over 10 years ago. Their mission is to “provide affordable, sustainable products and services and decent livelihoods, rather than generate excessive profits for others”. Like any business, they aim to be profitable but are focused on passing any surplus funds along to benefit the community rather than themselves. Their veg box scheme brings its customers fresh, organic, seasonal veg and fruit every week. Growing Communities is focused on sustainability in all levels of its business. They champion ecological food and farming and distribute the food in a low-impact and low-carbon manner.
This innovative company aims to take surplus fruit and turn it into tasty, healthy snacks, diverting it from landfills in the process. Founder Ilana Taub says she started Snact in 2013 “to create a simple solution to fix a broken food system. Right now, there are a growing number of people struggling with food poverty and still tonnes of food that get thrown away.” They do this by making healthy snacks from surplus foods. Snact takes sustainability one step further by using compostable packaging for all of their products. They are committed to tackling food waste and their products are available online and in multiple stores.
Aiming to divert 1,000 tonnes of food waste from landfill and coordinated by the Greater London Authority, Food Save specifically helps small and medium-sized businesses “reduce their food waste, put surplus food to good use and dispose of unavoidable food waste more responsibly”. This is accomplished through processes such as composting or anaerobic digestion. Food Save offers helpful insights, best practices, methods and tools for reducing food waste on their website. Most notably, they offer a DIY Waste Audit that includes downloadable PDF guides and calculators which allow any business to conduct an audit and get started on reducing their food waste.
If you don’t think pigs are the answer to our food waste woes, then how about Refood? It uses state-of-the-art Anaerobic Digestion technology to turn waste into renewable energy. Refood’s goal is to divert food waste from landfills by offering businesses an alternative recycling service that is also cost effective. They offer a full service solution ranging from collection to recycling and can tailor their plans to small and large businesses.
The SRA was started in 2010 and aims “to be the intersection of the food-service industry and the sustainable food movement”. They want to make sustainability the norm in the restaurant industry and understand the importance of customer engagement in the sustainability movement. Multiple strategies are advancing this aim, including rating member restaurants on their food sustainability credentials and providing resources and assessments to promote improvement.
Did you know that over 1/3 of all produce never reaches our plate? It is often thrown away due to poor management or the fact that it is unaesthetic. Rubies in the Rubble is changing that one jar at a time. Rubies takes surplus fruit and veg and turns them into delicious condiments with the help of a workforce of people down on their luck who need an opportunity to gain skills. This clever business model has saved over six million fruits and vegetables as well as over 250 tonnes of C02 making Rubies a clear leader in food sustainability.
Food packaging is a big problem: it sucks up water and raw materials and often sits in landfills or is incinerated after being discarded which contributes to global warming. Unpackaged’s mission is to “reduce packaging waste by developing systems that enable businesses and individuals to reuse and refill”. They have a variety of locations where consumers can bring their own containers, shop for products in bulk and pay for what they have purchased by weight. This is all done with reusable containers that customers bring themselves which reduces waste and saves money. Unpackaged also has a consulting arm that advises businesses on implementing zero waste initiatives.
These 10 food sustainability initiatives are using a variety of methods to change behaviours and protect the environment.
How are you supporting food sustainability in the U.K.?
Emily Kenway works in the third sector promoting responsible practices by companies and investors. Prior to 2011, Emily was a professional opera singer before following her passion for sustainability into this new career. Her particular interests include the circular economy, environmental impacts, and the food industry.