As we pass the (says hopefully) middle of the second national lockdown, we must spare a thought for the nation’s growers, particularly during London Climate Action Week. Before this year an estimated 4.5 million tonnes of perfectly presentable and edible groceries were going to waste, not to mention the colossal amount of water and energy required to grow them.
When the pandemic hit the UK earlier in the year the hospitality sector effectively shut down overnight and food companies and redistribution charities were left with just days to try to find a home for tens of thousands of tonnes of food. At the same time the UK faced a workforce crisis that threatened to see vast amounts of crops ploughed straight back into the ground.
Following the announcement of the second lockdown, sales to the hospitality sector have once again come to a shuddering halt and the finely tuned food supply-chain has once again been seriously disrupted, threatening another explosion in food waste. This matters because if food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases (only behind China and the U.S.).
But there is reason for optimism. The charity WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) recently issued a report which reveals that food waste at home fell from 24.1% in November 2019 to 13.7% in April 2020, although it started to increase again as lockdown restrictions were eased. It found that the pandemic has also changed our attitudes to food waste with ‘eight in ten of us agreeing that food waste is an important national issue (84%), and that everyone, including me, has a responsibility to minimise the food we throw away (90%)’. It has also found that 40% of us have ‘cooked more creatively and 30% started using up more leftovers, whilst ‘70% of us say that we hope to maintain at least some of our lockdown food management behaviours.’
We can all play our part, however small. For instance, in the summer we signed up to Oddbox, a produce-delivery subscription service that aims to reduce food waste, and I was particularly struck by this week’s accompanying note which stated that “…those who supply food services have been the worst affected, particularly UK salad growers who have seen their orders drop like Autumn leaves” due to its short shelf life. It continues, “…prioritising salads over the next couple of weeks will be crucial in preventing an obscene amount of leafy waste.” Oddbox is urging us to buck the trend of typical hearty stews, casseroles or roasts, or at least sticking a salad on the side of them!
For those who’ve yet to experience the joy of an Oddbox, it’s like receiving a weekly Christmas hamper. The delivery is made in the middle of the night to minimise emissions and all the food and veg is in a single cardboard box. You can stipulate if there are things you really don’t want…but basically it’s a lucky dip depending on what’s about to go to waste and needs ‘rescuing’. The accompanying letter tells you why each item has been included. The most common reasons appear to ‘Surplus’, ‘Size’ (who minds if their pears are little on the small side), ‘Shape’ (do we blame the EU for this one…?!) or Cosmetic Defects (these are normally minor blemishes on the skin).
Don’t worry, they also go on to say that drinkers can also play their part at the moment. Apparently oranges and limes were on their way to the UK and suddenly found themselves with no end destination. So we must all do our bit and ensure our G&Ts are well garnished. Cheers!
[For outside of the Oddbox delivery radius there’s OLIO – a food exchange.]