You are here

Share that lettuce! Projects to avoid food waste go global

16 Feb 2017

By Diane M. Fresquez

Does this sound like you? When you do your shopping, you buy too much fruit and veg during the week. So you use what you can, toss the rest, and start all over again the next week.

You’re not the only one. About one-third of all the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation. There are many reasons: inefficient farming, spoilage in transport, overstocked shops, and individual excess. And if that wasn’t bad enough, all those wasted resources add up to 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases added unnecessarily to the atmosphere, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.

Per capita food losses and waste, at consumption and pre-consumptions stages, in different regions

But anti-food waste initiatives are popping up all over the world – and Anna Davies, a professor of geography, environment and society at Trinity College Dublin is researching the impact they might have on the future of our cities. Her Share City project, funded by the European Research Council, is mapping a big rise in Internet-enabled initiatives to share more food, or re-cycle food waste, across the globe: From shared kitchens to underground gardens, her group has collected data on more than 4,000 of these initiatives in 100 cities around the world – including London (with the most initiatives), Warsaw, Boston, Dubai, Nairobi and Tokyo - and put them into a searchable database that launched publicly last September.

Other anti-food waste initiatives, of all types and sizes, are also tapping into the popularity of a ‘sharing economy.’ In the UK, a global food waste organisation, Feedback, organises a recurring event, Feeding the 5,000: communal feasts, for 5,000 people, made entirely out of food that would otherwise have been wasted.

Kids rule

On a smaller scale, there’s Bubble & Squeak @BubbleSqueakEat, a brand new social enterprise involving approximately 400 London children ranging in age from four to 12. The children had already been learning about the issues around food waste and the grass roots movements that have sprung up to tackle it. They are now in the early phases of collecting the food and redistributing it to the local community once a week via the school/community centre. Long-term goals include making a product out of surplus food to sell, using their community kitchen, and employing local people to make it.  

Kids at Bubble and Squeak

“The children live in a very diverse area in West London (East Acton) and are in the top 10 per cent of deprivation in the capital. They are really understanding the impact their work will have on the immediate world around them, and they instinctively get the concept of the sharing economy,’ says Elly Harrington, one of the adult ‘helpers’ and a founder of the group.  

As an academic topic, food sharing is clearly ‘in’: It’s cropping up on many conference programmes now. For instance, Davies and colleagues will be at the Annual American Association of Geographers Conference in Boston April 5-9.

As anti-food waste initiatives take off around the world, there’s even an award -- the Food Waste Solution Contest Public Award – and Share City is among the finalists. The contest aims not only to highlight and support solutions to food waste, but also food packaging waste at any part(s) of the food chain. It’s the brainchild of REFRESH, an EU research project taking action against food waste. (Online voting for the winner is open to 28 February.)

Davies is featured in a series of articles on ERC-funded research on food and nutrition: The Taste Tests: Can science help us eat better?