Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Around the world, one-third of all food produced for human consumption goes to waste. This waste contributes to a food industry which causes 80% of deforestation worldwide, 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, 70% of fresh water use, and is the largest single cause of biodiversity loss. THE FAO estimates that every year, the production of food that is wasted generates 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases and uses up to 1.4 billion hectares of land. As population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, the ecological impact of agriculture is set to expand still further, unless the current food system can be radically transformed. At the same time, in the UK alone 5.8 million people cannot afford a decent diet. Although the causes of hunger are complex, these figures point to an inefficient and flawed food system at every level of the value chain, from farm to landfill, which fails to serve social, environmental or economic interests.
At the farm level, 20-40% of many British-grown crops are rejected even before they reach the shops. A key factor is their not matching supermarkets’ strict cosmetic standards, which demand uniform shapes, narrow sizes limits, and unblemished peels. A second factor causing waste is food retailers changing their forecasts or cancelling orders at the last minute after crops have already been grown, and leaving the entire cost of this waste on the suppliers. This reflects a broken system where farmers around the world have little power compared to multinational food retailers.
There are further systemic causes of waste at the level of food retailers. A number of start-ups and charities aim to use some of the millions of tonnes of useable food which are wasted across the supply chain. To date, many efforts to tackle food waste focus on the end of the supply chain, consumer behavior and waste disposal. Household waste equates to over 7 million tonnes per year in the UK, and many apps and guides provide tips for customers to cook with leftovers, plan their shopping, or better understand food labelling. However these solutions focus only on the end of the supply chain: there is a need to address the root causes of food waste throughout the system in a more preventative approach.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Tristram Stuart developed early on in his life an acute concern for the sustainability of the Earth’s ecosystems. Over the past decade he has identified food waste as a key lever for reforming land use and addressing climate change. Since 2009 he has been working to launch a broad-based, united global movement against food waste which will shift the food production system to dramatically decrease levels of waste.
Faced with the challenges of systematic over-production of food, overly strict cosmetic standards on farm produce, and endemic wastage along the whole supply chain, Tristram has designed a multi-tiered approach to reduce waste throughout the food system – not just consumer-level waste. This builds substantially on the work of existing charities in the UK which focus on a single aspect of food waste, such as redistributing unsold food from supermarkets and their supply chains to charities that feed people suffering from food poverty. At the farm level, Tristram’s team is working to relax cosmetic standards in supermarkets and EU policy, and drawing together pools of volunteers in “gleaning networks” to harvest surplus food across the UK and the EU. At the retailer level, Tristram works with major UK supermarkets to analyze their supply chains and launch large-scale waste reduction initiatives. Six major UK retailers, with over 75% of the UK market share, are now committed to publicly disclose their food wastage figures with varying levels of transparency; Tesco is the first to report transparently and have their waste statistics audited by a third party. At the policy level, Tristram has worked to raise food waste up the government agenda, including collaborating to successfully push for the creation of a “Groceries Code Adjudicator” to oversee supermarket commercial relationships with farmers, and aims to change EU policy so that waste food can be safely converted into animal feed.
However in order to drive lasting, fundamental change in the food industry, Tristram’s approach not only tackles these supplier-side issues, but also demand-side issues: changing consumer mindsets. To reach a critical mass, he works to influence media and other key stakeholders, and crucially pioneered a mass-mobilization event called “Feeding the 5000”. Here, Feedback – the charity Tristram founded – draws together a network of local partners to co-create an event where 5000 hot lunches, made from fresh but cosmetically imperfect food that would otherwise have been wasted, are given away for free in a single afternoon. The event format has now been taken up internationally over 20 times. Ultimately, Tristram is launching a global movement to end food waste, by engaging the media, changing government and business policy, conducting hard-hitting research, working through partnership and changing mindsets. Tristram’s innovative advocacy style and practical solutions have helped to elevate food waste from a non-issue several years ago to one now recognized as an urgent international priority, with the UK in particular leading the way in Europe.