There are growing numbers of innovative initiatives round the UK aimed at solving the problem of surplus food, as Natasha Wynarczyk discovers

Food waste

There are a number of organisations trying to educate us on how to stop wasting food.

The People’s Fridge

Disposing of food waste in London costs a staggering £50m per annum, and 890,000 tonnes of food is thrown away each year in the capital.

It’s estimated that 540,000 tonnes of this could be avoided, and a group of volunteers in Brixton, South London, are aiming to bring the level of waste down with their community fridge.

Located in Pop Brixton, an outdoor space run by local food traders, The People’s Fridge officially launched in February following a crowdfunding campaign that raised £2,270 –over double the £1,000 target.

‘Our key aims are to cut food waste, encourage food sharing and tackle food poverty,’ explains The People’s Fridge co-founder Ben Longman. ‘Instead of lecturing about food waste, we’ve come up with a fun way to change people’s behaviour and engage them in the issue, as well as make them feel more part of a community.’

Registered businesses, such as supermarkets and food traders, can leave leftover cooked meals and surplus food in the fridge, as can local people – providing the food is unopened.

There’s a logbook, so what’s been put in and removed can be recorded, and people passing by are free to help themselves. ‘There is an element of trust here, and so far we’ve had no problems with anybody taking a lot of food out,’ Ben says. ‘We especially want the neediest people to feel able to use it, without stigma.’

The fridge is currently open seven days a week – 9am–8pm Monday to Thursday, 9am-5pm Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and it is cleaned and managed daily by volunteers and Pop Brixton traders.

‘Traders can put leftover food there 24/7 too, so it’s always well-stocked,’ Ben says. Though The People’s Fridge can’t take raw meat, fish and eggs for health and safety reasons, since its opening the fridge has hosted anything from bruised, wonky fruit and veg to cooked curries and doughnuts.

‘We won’t take anything past its use-by-date, but anything which is over its best before is fine,’ Ben says.

The founders of the project  are in talks to have the fridge moved to a more visible location, and they also want to set up more fridges across the London borough of Lambeth.

‘The reaction we’ve had has been incredibly positive – we’ve even had somebody call to offer us fridges we can use! I’d love to see this rolled out in the rest of the UK,’ Ben adds. ‘I know at the moment there’s something similar in Frome, Somerset.

‘We want to use the extra money we raised to provide support to local groups to set up other food-sharing initiatives, promote the importance of cutting food waste and host other events in Brixton.’

FoodCycle

Volunteers hold weekly events, using surplus food from supermarkets to feed those in need.

Each week in 33 locations across England – from Chester-le-Street in County Durham to Exeter – hundreds of FoodCycle volunteers get busy cooking surplus supermarket food for people affected by issues such as loneliness, homelessness and long-term unemployment.

‘We realised supermarkets were throwing out food that didn’t look presentable, but was fine to eat,’ CEO Mary McGrath explains. ‘We work with them at a head office level now, taking waste food and turning it into healthy, three-course meals for people who feel isolated or can’t afford food like that.’

The weekly events have a ‘cafe’ feel, Mary says. ‘We lay out tables with cutlery, and decorate the community centres where we host the meals with things like surplus flowers in vases.’ On average, 30-40 people are fed at one time, but at some events, such as a recent one in Norwich, 100 people were fed in one sitting.

FoodCycle volunteers leaflet places like local GP surgeries and retirement homes, and put posters up in community centres, to ensure they reach the people who need their service the most.

‘Word of mouth has been very powerful for us, too,’ Mary adds. ‘What is essential for us is that everybody is welcome – we don’t ask people difficult questions about their income, for example.’

Mary says around 80% of the guests they’ve spoken to have made friends through FoodCycle.

‘Some of them say they never ate with other people, or were frightened to leave the house before coming to FoodCycle events,’ she says.

‘We’re changing lives, but also helping our volunteers to learn more about food waste and improve their cooking skills. It really is a shared experience.’

Too Good To Go

This new app allows consumers to locate restaurants and buy leftovers for a bargain price.

If you’re put off by the high prices in some restaurants, download the Too Good To Go app, which lets you bag a bargain meal while also tackling the problem of leftover food.

After launching in Brighton and Leeds in June last year, Too Good To Go is now available in several other cities in the UK, including Aberdeen, Swansea and Cambridge.

‘Restaurants throw away an estimated 600,000 tonnes of food a year,’ co-founder Jamie Crummie says. ‘There’s often a lot left over during the switch from breakfast to lunch or at closing time, which is perfectly fine for people to eat.’

Jamie and his business partner Chris Wilson spoke to restaurants they thought may be happy to sell their waste food for a small amount, and now they have a range of independent restaurants, as well as chains like Yo! Sushi and Jimmy’s on board with their idea.

The app enables you to locate a nearby restaurant that has unwanted leftovers, and gives you a time window in which to collect the food, which typically costs between £2 and £4.

You can see if it’s suitable for vegetarians or gluten-free too, and the founders are working on making it more accessible to those with more specific diets.

There is also an option to donate money.

‘Our aim is for our app to be used by as many people and companies as possible, whether supermarkets or restaurants. We’d like to change the way people react and feel towards food waste,’ Jamie adds.

How you can get involved

Keen to set up a community fridge in your area? You can download a toolkit here: edventurefrome.org/project/set-up-a-community-fridge-toolkit/

Download the Too Good To Go app on your smartphone (toogoodtogo.co.uk) and tuck into delicious restaurant meals at low prices.

If you’re interested in becoming a FoodCycle volunteer, hub leader or fundraiser, visit foodcycle.org.uk/get-involved/ for more information

Keep an eye out in Woman’s Weekly and on our Facebook page for Waste Not Want Not tips you can do at home – plus run your own monthly Woman’s Weekly Supper Club, using our Cookery Ed Felicity’s recipes, getting to know your community better while preventing food waste.