The Jury has reached a verdict. Food waste collections work! (kind of)

Filed in Blog by on September 25, 2008 28 Comments
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food waste now being recycledI’ve been wading my way through the 72 page evaluation report of food waste collection trials bought out recently by WRAP.

During January 2007 and March 2008, WRAP provided funding to 19 local authorities to carry out separate food waste collections.

The trials involved the separate weekly collection of food waste for either in-vessel composting or anaerobic digestion from over 94,000 households across the country.


A total of over 4,400 tonnes of food waste was diverted from landfill, with peelings, cores and bones making up the majority of the waste. The uptake varied widely across areas and the top reasons people gave for not participating were concerns about potential hygiene, odour or vermin issues. Interestingly, these issues were shown to be of LESS concern for those who actually took part. Which would indicate that the anticipations of the issues are worse than the reality.

21% of people reckoned that they did not produce enough food waste to take part at all. However, it’s shown that even households who claim to produce no waste at all produce on average, 2.9kg per week. In fact 31% of kerbside residual waste is estimated to be food waste.

WRAP have hailed the trial as a success and feel that households have shown high levels of public support. 78% of residents were satisfied with the collection service they received. WRAP feel that results of these trials shows that if consumers are given the right tools and are provided with a good service, they will participate in initiatives to cut waste being sent to landfill.

That’s fabulous news and we’re pleased to hear that WRAP are going to be working with other councils to roll out food waste collections into other areas.

The trouble comes when you read further down into the report.

Unfortunately, only 4 to 8% of households claimed to have changed their attitudes or habits relating to food purchasing and consumption as a result of taking part in the food waste collection service.

The statistics are as follows:

8% said their awareness about the desirability of avoiding food waste had increased as a result of trials.

5% said they now think more about what food they purchase as a result of the trials

4% said they try to avoid food packaging as a result of the trials

We’ve always said here at Chez Green that prevention is better than cure, and these results really show the rubbish inside a bus shelterneed for promotion of waste reduction at root level. It’s great that collection of food waste is increasing, we’re very supportive of that, but we really need to see a change of behaviour by householders with their purchasing habits if we are to make a real difference.
As the folks at Gummy Bin recognise; their biggest task is to change people’s behaviour rather than providing solutions to the symptoms.

All this wasted food is costly; in the UK we spend £10.2 billion every year buying and then throwing away good food.

More importantly, avoided CO2 emissions from preventing food waste amount to 4.5 tonnes per tonne of avoided food waste compared to 0.45 tonnes per tonne of recycled food waste through in-vessel composting. So the cost of dumped food, and even ‘recycled food’ to the environment is colossal.

Not to mention the fact that while we are consuming and throwing things away, some people do not know where their next meal is coming from………

So let’s turn a challenge into an opportunity! WRAP are already addressing this with their Love Food, Hate Waste campaign. I wonder how we can increase the 5% of householders who said they now think more about what food they purchase as a result of their food waste collections; so that food waste in general can dramatically decrease.

Reducing food waste is a win-win for the environment and our pockets, so needs looking at in my opinion.
As well as addressing the problem i.e. running after the horse after it has bolted, let’s tether that runaway horse up before he trots around the supermarket aimlessly filling his trolley and stop him bolting in the first place!

I wonder how ‘in yer face’ campaigns need to be to bring about personal change? Over in Auckland, New Zealand, there is a campaign about litter dropping. The photo  on the right shows how much rubbish is dropped around a single bus shelter in one week. Someone picked up all the litter and placed it inside the bus shelter to create this startling image. Will it change people’s behaviour? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

We’re thinking of setting up a recipes database on the site. Not ones that have been taken from recipe books – I really wonder if the people who write them have actually made some of them as I have ended up with total disasters! What we want is your own tried and tested successes. The ones your families love and are firm favourites in your household.

This weekend, after reading the report, I finally got around to making my own chutney. In addition I dusted off my yogurt maker and made another batch, made custard with the leftover milk and baked cakes. In addition I used the chicken bones to make soup, which I have never done before! I felt pretty virtuous by the end of the day; and you can’t put a price on feeling good about your achievements.

What about you; what changes could you put in place to reduce your food waste?

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About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth’s fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (28)

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  1. Hi Mrs Green,

    Food waste collections are essential to reduce landfill, a very important issue. This will help Councils reach their landfill targets and thus avoid incineration.

    Efficient food use will follow on from this as people see the amount of waste they produce. There will be some adjustment time in the process.

    Separately, we should promote good food use, as you do here, by giving advice on every possible food issue. All related blogs cover food issues as well.

    As for the low precentage statistics, it just shows the amout of work required to change die-hard attitudes. They will change but it will take time.

  2. Emma says:

    I was lucky enough to visit an in-vessel composting plant yesterday. Anyone who’s interested in knowing what goes on there can listen to the latest episode of the AKG podcast (http://coopette.com/akg/akg073-out-about) or check out my photos (http://flickr.com/photos/fluffymuppet/sets/72157607472108649/).

  3. Poppy says:

    Yaaaay!! Three cheers for the yoghurt Mrs G!! I managed another yoghurt 1st today – I actually put it into another container so that I could start another batch going. I was sooo missing it during those 8 – 10 hours of making and cooling.

    This food waste business amazes me. We honestly rarely ever put food to landfill. If it’s ever been near a fruit or veg and is unuseable it goes in the compost. The only other thing that we have very occasional problems with, is chicken bones. Where do they get the 2.9kg figure from?

    I don’t know what the answer is with regard to getting more people onside. It’s all become so easy for us, secondnature and I guess that may be the problem on the other side – it’s so easy for them to just dump and run – there is as yet, no guilt factor. Everytime a council tries to enforce a policy that is widely seen as draconian, they get really bad press. It should be the other way round.

    I’m carrying a little guilt with me at the moment. When I went to put our one small bag of rubbish out for collection this morning, I noticed that DH had put a pair of torn underpants in the bin. My intinct was to get them out to put in the rag bag, but you know what these wheelies are like, no way could I reach to the bottom so I had to grit my teeth and walk away. Remembering of course to scowl and tell him off when I got back indoors 😉

  4. Hi Poppy,

    No food should go to landfill. Composting and Bokashi bins can deal with all types of food waste. If you cannot compost bones send them to me, or find a local Bokashi/Green Cone user.

    Food waste collections will remove food from landfill and transform the situation. There are opponents to this but the pratical reality is that it is a winner.

  5. Mrs Green says:

    Hi john, Maybe the credit crunch will also be a contributory factor in people producing less food waste – let’s see.

    Emma, thanks for the links. I listened to your podcast this afternoon and really enjoyed it. You should be a hypnotherapist, you have a great voice!

    Poppy, it seems you have your food waste right down; which is great.

    I was amazed at the TV programme I watched back in June where someone went into a family’s home, took their food ‘rubbish’ and sifted through it. They threw away the obvious things like meat, but created 17 dishes from things this family were throwing away. Astonishing! And ‘best by’ dates were to blame, nothing more than that.

    I heard about researchers at Manchester University who are developing an RFID tag that can adjust ‘best before’ dates according to how well the food has been stored. It’s an interesting concept, although why we can’t use our noses, sight and sense of taste I’ll never know LOL!

  6. Hi Mrs Green,

    Bogof has a lot to answer for. They are supposedly a great thing for consumers but are so close to “best by” dates that some waste is inevitable.

    The truth is these offers are done to offload soon-to-be waste item which have little value. Superstores do not say that in the publicity, maybe they should be forced to be totally honest.

    New developments are welcomed as long as they are not misused. Can we really trust these superstores?

  7. Fr. Peter says:

    There was an article in The Independent newspaper recently by Dominic Lawson defending BOGOFS. In it Lawson said that “the vast majority of ‘Bogof’ deals in supermarkets are for goods which can be frozen”. This seemed remote from my experience, so I called into my local Tesco’s and made a ‘Bogof’ list; this was the result:

    5 varieties of chocolates
    10 varieties of crisps
    7 varieties of cook in sauces
    Pepsi Max
    Lucozade
    1 fruit drink concentrate
    1 type of biscuit
    1 brand of 4 tin pack tomatoes
    1 brand of tea bag (40 pack)
    1 brand of drinking yoghurt

    I pointed out in an email to Mr. Lawson that there were no frozen items and no essentials either. He replied, in defence, that they were mainly all non perishables so would keep. So that’s OK then Mr. Lawson, as long as it’s mainly packaged in plastic and high in calories no problem!

  8. Hi Peter,

    Well done for pointing out Dom’s errors. I sometimes wonder whether these journalists are in the pay of superstores etc. From your list of 10, I would only purchase 1 (fruit juice) as ZeroWastePackaging indicates that the other 9 do not conform to the ideal.

  9. Fr. Peter says:

    That thought (re journalists loyalty) crossed my mind as well…

    It’s rather like the 2012 Olympics event promoting heath and a sensible diet for the young of today while being sponsored my Mc.Donalds and Coca-Cola with Snickers as an official snack.

    It’s the George Bush Clean Air Syndrome way of journalism John, let’s give something an acceptable title, then do the exact opposite!

  10. Hi Peter,

    You have mentioned a lot of bad eggs. I recommend a good mouthwash!

    What is your view of Zero Waste as a means to reduce landfill?

  11. esther says:

    I actually tried the link about making yogurt yourself, you left somewhere in the blog…(keeping it in a thermos, if u don’t have the yogurtmaker) and finally, the texture was kinda weird (may be too much milkpowder) and not very acid, I probably should’ve left it a while longer…I’ll re-try! but w< are so lucky as to be able to buy glass yogurt jars (some brands at least)

    And I also give a lot of thought about foodwaste, at the moment. F.e. when I have left over spaghetti, the net day, I’ll put that into an omelette (do you say that in english?) anyway, I mix them with eggs and make a kinda pancake of it. Try it, it’s really nice!

  12. Fr. Peter says:

    Hi Esther,

    I was taught that self praise is no reccomendation, but may I suggest you try this?
    http://diyenvironmentalideas.blogspot.com/2008/01/do-you-like-yoghurt.html

  13. maisie clark says:

    Yay on the yogurt Mrs G.

    I laways have a batch on the go as my 2 eat loads. I use the Easi-yo syatem which is a powder mix but makes a litre of yougurt for approx £2, it can either be orgainc natural or a flovoured variety.

    I have heard as well that you can use the starter system along with UHT milk in the Easi-yo and make yogurt like you would in a flask or slow-cooker.

    I think the only real food waste we have is chicken bones or sometimes pork chop bones; any other bones get given to the doga along with any unedible cooked food waste, all veg & fruit waste is composted.

    Great idea on the recipe database!!!

  14. sally says:

    Well you have got me thinking on my next steps (im a little behind many of you ) food waste is minimal here, sometimes veg goes over so that goes in the compost bin and sometimes there is a little left over on our dinner plates which i land fill essentially. I did a lot of reading round about bokashi s and got scared off by the potential smell and rodent risk (our neighbour has spotted a rat in her garden and it was living under our shed-i fear its because the house at the back put lots of scraps out for the birds).

    As for yogurt making is the easi yo stuff ok? are the ingredients good? I have two peeps in my house who are big yogurt fans and i hate throwing the tubs away.

  15. maisie clark says:

    Have a look at either http://www.easiyo.com it will give you all the info. personally I buy from either http://www.wahlshop.co.uk or http://www.yogurtdirect.co.uk as these are the cheapest even allowing for postage.

    As I said I either have an organic natural or one of the flavoured ones on the go; the boys get through at least 3 litres per week, as they will often eat this when they come in from school, plus DS2 takes it to school, at the moment in his packed lunch.

  16. Hi Sally,

    The Bokashi has a yeasty smell which you can quickly get used to. As for rats, with the lid closed there is no smell. I keep mine in the kitchen but one thing I did notice was the weight of the Bokashi, when full. I had kept it 4 months befor emptying which possibly explain this.

  17. Mrs Green says:

    Peter, I love your action on this article and you rightly pointed out that they are high calorie items with little nutritional value and lots of packaging – just junk basically.

    Esther, yes pasta in an omelette can turn it into a substantial meal Adding cooked, chopped potatoes turns an omelette into a very filling frittata! I have found my yogurt to not be acidic enough too, but the other two love it and gobble it up; it’s more like solid cream! However, I experimented with a different brand of milk this week and increased the amount of starter yogurt that I put it. This resulted in yogurt with more of a bite.
    Try Peter’s recipe and see how you get on. I think we need to keep trying until we find something we like.
    Alternatively, there is the easyio system that Maisie recommends – I’ve heard lots of good reports on this.

    Sally, let us know how you get on with yogurt. I decided against easiyo as I wanted something more ‘purist’, but that’s just me being fussy no doubt. I use a spoonful of yeo valley as my ‘starter’ and hope to get to the point where I can use the home made yogurt as a starter.
    I’m not aware of a bokashi causing any problems with rats…..

  18. maisie clark says:

    Hi, you can actually use the Easi-yo flask etc and make yog by using a starter adn UHT milk then leave to yog as normal.

    I just do it with the sachets as the boys like the flavours.

  19. Poppy says:

    I’m on my 6th pot of homemade yoghurt now and I haven’t needed to buy another starter yet. I’ve also just converted junior to it – he says he doesn’t want another shop bought yoghurt or rice pudding, he just wants home made puds with no waste. Bless him!

  20. Mrs Green says:

    Great that the Easyio lends itself to different ways, Maisie. Poppy I LOVE your boy – what a great comment, which only goes to prove again that home cooking tastes way better than anything you can buy.
    Give him a HUG from me 🙂

  21. Poppy says:

    I hear that FoD are to start Food Waste collections. I’ve heard a rumour that they are to start here too. This bothers me as it is IMO sending out the wrong messages 🙁

  22. Kris says:

    Which district are you Poppy?

    I would love a Food Waste collection for Tewks BC, though I agree it’s a combined message of trying not to let food spoil alongside a service that will deal with compostable waste.

  23. Poppy says:

    Next door to you Kris 🙂

  24. Mrs Green says:

    Yes Poppy, there are ‘talks’ about food waste collections here, alongside fortnightly rubbish collections (yipee!) I know what you mean about the food waste collections, we should be stopping the problem at source, but you’ll see next week that even hardened zero wasters can be food wasters 😉

  25. Jane says:

    Food waste collections for flats are now being rolled out in some areas. I think these are a brilliant idea as it makes you realise what you are wasting and recycling the rest of your waste so much easier.

  26. Mrs Green says:

    @Jane: I never knew that Jane; I’m really pleased to hear it. People who live in flats have certain challenges to overcome and collection of food waste will be very helpful and make the rest of the waste more pleasant to deal with.

  27. Jane says:

    I’m re-looking at food waste. I notice that South Gloucestershire says ‘No’ to raw bones? Why is this? Most Council collections seem to take food cooked and uncooked including bones. Does anybody (especially you Gloucestershire people) know the actual reason for this?

  28. Mrs Green says:

    @Jane: Oh, I didn’t know that Jane. I’ll look into it and get back to you. Thanks for the headsup 🙂

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