New businesses are storming the food waste scene, determined to recycle – and profit from – the food we throw away
If you walked along London’s South Bank a few weeks back, you’ll have seen hundreds of people enjoying a vast feast made by eco-chef Tom Hunt. A banquet of platters laden with chorizo, kebabs, pork, chargrilled vegetables, strawberries and sourdough is a spectacle in itself, but what made this event, Feeding the 500, even more remarkable was that it was all made from food destined to be wasted.
Susatinability experts WRAP UK calculate that 60 per cent of all the food we throw away at home could be eaten. And according to the charityFoodCycle, at least 400,000 tons of usable surplus food could be saved from supermarkets each year. When you take into account waste across the whole supply chain, you begin to realise it would be more than possible to have a feast on the South Bank made from unwanted food every single day of the year.
Globally, too, we waste as much as 30 per cent of all our food, but there’s reason to be optimistic. The management consultancy firm McKinsey believe the amount of global food waste presents a huge opportunity for business, innovation and investment. And a growing number of social entrepreneurs and campaigners agree – this is an opportunity not to be wasted.
Jason Drew had his moment of realisation standing at the back of a slaughterhouse in the Western Cape of South Africa looking at a dam of blood surrounded by flies. ‘I remembered that as a child I’d learned two ways to catch fish: tie a fly onto a line and cast it onto the water, or attach a maggot or worm onto a hook and drop it in. Much of aquaculture and chicken farming depends on fishmeal and the production of fishmeal causes devastation to our seas. It dawned on me that we could use waste recycled by flies and make our industrial agriculture far more sustainable.’
He created AgriProtein, a company which won the Innovation Prize for Africa in May. It uses organic waste to create fly larvae with which to feed fish and chickens, in place of soya. ‘Flies and larvae are a natural protein for the animals we are feeding. Rather than bringing fishmeal from South America or the Antarctic to farms, we recycle waste nutrients locally and sell our product locally.’
Slightly more palatable and definitely less maggoty is Jenny Dawson’s enterprise, Rubies in the Rubble, a range of chutneys made from waste fruit and vegetables. Her lightbulb experience happened in 2011, when she discovered a pallet full of mange tout imported from Kenya and ‘wrapped like expensive shoes’ at London’s New Covent Garden Market about to be thrown away. ‘I decided I was going to put to good use things that are discarded in our society without reason. I wanted to be a business, not a charity because I believe that in a capitalist society homelessness, joblessness, food waste and so on can be addressed and only will be addressed by business. We need to employ people and we need to do good through our supply chain. So we have a charity heart with a business head.’
This July, Waitrose joined Selfridges and Fortnum and Mason in stocking her chutneys, allowing Rubies in the Rubble to scale up and buy surplus vegetables cheaply and directly from farmers. ‘Farmers need to oversupply to deal with the demand from the supermarkets and when they have a surplus they love to do something with it. We pay their delivery costs and our kitchens go tomato crazy.’
She’s not the only business making use of surplus food, of course. There’s Disco Soup, for example, a French project where volunteers chop misshapen vegetables to the sound of disco music and make it into soup, and Rejuce, which pulps waste fruit into juices sold from an old milk float around London. There are pop up and roaming restaurants serving menus entirely created from food waste, like Tom Hunt’s ownForgotten Feast restaurant, the Brixton People’s Kitchen and thePeople’s Supermarket in Holborn, who have turned their food waste and that of their suppliers into a catering sideline.
‘Most mountains of food waste are a tragedy. But they’re also an opportunity to create value out of things with little or no value,’ says Tristram Stuart, author of Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandaland founder of the campaigning organisation Feeding the 5000. The feast on the South Bank aimed to raise awareness of one of Feeding the 5000’s campaigns, The Pig Idea. Since the foot and mouth epidemic in 2001, there’s been a ban on feeding catering waste, even from vegan kitchens, to the UK’s nine million pigs, even though there is no scientific evidence that feeding pigs on scraps is harmful. Increased grain prices have had a major impact on pig farmers as a result, pushing some out of business, but if farmers were allowed to feed pigs on waste, The Pig Idea claim it would reduce farming costs by up to 70 per cent. ‘There’s a hierarchy in food waste,’ explains Edd Colbert, The Pig Idea’s campaign coordinator. ‘We shouldn’t be wasting food in the first place. But where we do, we should redistribute it to humans in need first. Then, where it’s not suitable for humans, it’s better to build an infrastructure where it can be fed to animals like pigs and chickens, to keep it in the food chain.’
Drew agrees: ‘Driving sustainability in our food systems is something I have invested in. I am an environmental capitalist. I want to make money from business and repair the environment at the same time. We have to harness entrepreneurial spirit, the markets and an understanding of the environment in order to fix our problems.’
Making use of food waste is no longer the sole preserve of charities and bin divers, it seems. In Stuart’s words: ‘I would most definitely call this a food waste revolution.’
‘Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal’ (Penguin, RRP £10.99) is available to order from Telegraph Books(0844 871 1514) at £10.99 + £1.35p&p.
Read the piece as it appeared in the Daily Telegraph here