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We look at the UN’s second Sustainable Development Goal, and explore the ways that we can make the most of our food
Enough to go Around
The UN’s second Sustainable Development Goals concerns food and hunger – more specifically, the goal is to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” by 2030. UN stats from 2017 show that the number of under-nourished people in the world is growing, and sits at an estimated 821 million – that means around one person in every nine is not getting enough food.
It’s common to think about hunger and starvation as things that happen elsewhere, but it’s not just an international issue. According to food charity FareShare, 8.4 million people in the UK are struggling to eat; that’s the equivalent of the entire population of London. And yet somehow, as a country, the UK throws away 4.5 million tonnes of food every year that could still have been eaten. Figures from WRAP show that this amount of serviceable food waste equates to 10 billion meals per annum, just going in the bin.
We are throwing away an incredible amount of food, while all across the country people are going hungry.
Waste Not Want Not
As a recycling company we encounter a lot of food waste, and we deal with it in the most sustainable ways that we can, through anaerobic digestion, composting and biogas generation. These methods carry a lot of benefits, from providing fertiliser for agriculture to fuel for vehicles and energy for the National Grid, but even these sustainable options have an environmental impact. According to Trewin Restorick, Chief Executive of environmental charity Hubbub, “If food waste was a country, it would be the world’s third biggest contributor to climate change.”
Even worse, food thrown in general waste bins can cause loads to be contaminated, as too much grease or organic matter can make it extremely difficult to separate materials for recycling. If not thrown away properly in a segregated food bin, even small amounts of food waste can have massive adverse effects on recycling and sustainability.
These factors by themselves should be reason enough to reduce food waste. But the fact that a whopping 70% of the food that we throw away could have been eaten? That should really make us sit up in our seats. If we used all edible food that we currently throw away – all 4.5 million tonnes of it – not only would we be able to make 10 billion more meals with the same food costs, but it would offer a carbon saving equivalent to taking 2.4 million cars off the road for a year.
For many of us who don’t need to think about where the next meal is going to come from, it’s easy to throw away food without thinking. Some produce goes bad, there aren’t enough leftovers to save for a proper meal, and you made a trip to the supermarket while you’re hungry and came out with far too much, and suddenly a lot of perfectly edible food is in the bin. But eating and purchasing food responsibly is as easy as building a habit.
Keeping track of the food you throw away – even making a note of the monetary value of your food waste – is a great way to start being conscious about consumption. If portions aren’t being finished, leftovers are left uneaten, or food is going bad before it’s had a chance to be used in a meal, then these are all signs that changes can be made to reduce waste. Other ways you can reduce your food waste include:
- Making a list – buy only what you’ll eat, and try to eat everything you buy
- Storing food in the correct location
- Freezing and eating leftovers
- Trying to avoid cupboard clutter – too often food goes bad hidden at the back
- Trying to find an alternative to disposal for food you can’t use
From Bin to Banquet
Sometimes you end up with food you just can’t use – but even then there are alternatives to throwing it in the bin. For example, food banks are always in need of donations and will use donated items to feed the needy. There are over 2,000 food banks across the UK, with numbers steadily rising, and they give out over a million packs of food supplies every year – a much worthier use for your food than the bin! The Trussell Trust is the largest food bank network in the UK and let you search for the nearest one to you via postcode, if you’re looking for a way to get involved.
There are other charities trying to tackle waste food, too. Bywaters has worked with three of these recently, each one targeting a different part of the problem. Foodcycle uses surplus food from business and communities to make meals for the hungry and lonely, while Too Good To Go allows app users to order surplus food from stores and restaurants at discounted prices. Elysia, meanwhile, use surplus food for high-end events catering, transforming food that would’ve gone to waste into delicacies. There are ways to make a difference at every level.
The UN’s target to end hunger and food waste by 2030 is an ambitious one, but necessary. Next time you’re making a meal, or out shopping, take a minute to be mindful of how you can minimise your food waste, and what you can do to feed the hungry.