Kingston Combats Food Waste
Imagine yourself at the supermarket purchasing only your very favourite foods. Yorkshire pudding, T-bone steak, fresh strawberries, whatever it may be. Then get home and happily fill your pantry and refrigerator to the brim.
Now take half of that perfectly good food and throw it out. Just get rid of it.
Why? Because that is exactly what we have been doing for years.
Up to 50 per cent of edible food in the European Union goes straight into the rubbish pile, and that number is expected to rise another 40 per cent by 2020 if we continue down the same path. According to the latest estimates, the supermarkets and households in the United Kingdom combine to bin almost £12 million pounds of scrumptious, delectable, fresh food every single year.
That is nearly 20 million tonnes of food that never makes it to our mouths, including one-third of all fruits and vegetables that do not even reach store shelves.
Kerry McCarthy, the Labour MP from Bristol East, wants to put an end to the “scandalous” waste of quality food. McCarthy introduced a private member bill to Parliament in mid-March, simply named the Food Waste Bill, that proposes big changes to our penchant for disposing of edible food.
“People are genuinely scandalised by the scale of food waste, and really do want parliament to take action,” said McCarthy.
The bill has three main provisions meant to give supermarkets more incentive to donate their surplus food to local charities so it can be redistributed to those in need.
McCarthy’s bill has garnered support on both sides of the bench, including Richmond MP Zac Goldsmith: “The environmental crisis, combined with growing poverty requires us to address this urgently."
Originally expected to get its another reading in Parliament some time this month, the bill will not be read a second time until June.
In the meantime, large charities like FoodCycle and FareShare have been working around the UK to battle the growing food waste problem, but they too are unable to cover every village, town and city in the country. But where the large charities miss, it allows individual contributions really shine.
Des Kay, a resident of Kingston Upon Thames and founder of the Save the World Club, a local charity that provides mosaics, murals and other art around the borough, has been collecting and utilizing surplus food from supermarkets for over 30 years, though it has not always been strictly legal.
A self-proclaimed “freegan”—meaning he only eats discarded food—Kay used to have to sneak his way around supermarket bins. Now, however, Kay has agreements set up with Pret A Manger and Sainsbury’s to collect their food on almost a nightly basis and distribute it to charities around the borough.
Des visits one charity, Refugee Action Kingston (RAF), four times a week, feeding 40-50 people on each visit. Working with over 1,300 refugees and asylum seekers a year, RAK’s staff does not have the time to provide the food themselves.
“We wouldn’t be providing anything. We wouldn’t be able to get the funds for that it wouldn’t happen,” says RAK’s Bright Futures coordinator, Heather Knight, adding: “The donations from Des are a real incentive to come and learn and just something for them that day they don’t have to spend cash on. It has a big effect.”
One of RAK’s other donors is another contributor to the battle against food waste. Elise Barron, the outreach and engagement manager at Kingston University’s Sustainability Hub, donates fresh apples to the centre on a regular basis.
Last year Barron started a group called Abundance Kingston, a project through the Transition Town Kingston movement that organizes group to harvest fruit off of local trees that are left unpicked.
An old borough, Kingston Upon Thames does not have the luxury of planted public orchards like many newer towns, so much of Barron’s fruit picking is carried out in private gardens across the borough.
Barron is always amazed by the generosity of people in open their homes to be harvested, not to mention the sheer volume of fruit that a single tree can hold:
“Even I am surprised by how much fruit you can get off one tree. The largest pull that we got was 110 kilos of fruit off of one and a half trees and we still left loads of apples on the trees,” said Barron.
“We were like: ‘Ah! We can’t carry any more!’ Really amazing, and that’s just from one lady.”
Often, Barron gets so much fruit from her harvesting that it literally spills out into her living room.
“My living room has just been full of apples for two months until we sort it out.” -
Charities like Kay’s and Barron’s are cropping up all over the country, from other Abundance projects in Manchester and Sheffield to the brand new Plan Zheroes, which plays matchmaker for surplus food collectors and needy charities.
Kerry McCarthy is continuing to push her bill through Parliament but has plenty of tips for people to combat food waste at home as well.
“There many things you can do to reduce your own household waste, such as plan weekly menus in advance, freezing leftovers, making soups and smoothies out of veggies and fruit that is getting past its best.”
When the wasting habits do eventually change, Barron hopes it will be simple and welcome transition:
“They could easily, instead of having just cherry blossoms, have cherry trees.”