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Jamie Lawrence

Wagestream

Insights Director

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Can businesses help solve the food waste crisis?

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Here are some shocking stats.

  • Just the bread and cereal products thrown away in UK households could lift 30 million of the world’s hungriest people out of malnourishment
  • All the world's nearly one billion hungry people could be lifted out of malnourishment on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the US, UK and Europe

It’s clear we have a substantial food waste problem across the planet. Educating consumers has been the go-to solution and it’s working (waste from UK households has gone down from 37% to 20% since 2007) but we need to be doing more.

What causes food waste is an overabundance of resources. In the Western food it’s easy and inexpensive to acquire food. The first step, therefore, is reducing the amount of food we buy. This involves a difficult battle with the supermarket psychologists working to ensure we spend as much as possible in their aisles.

Beyond this, we have to get cleverer about what we do with the food we aren’t going to eat. This is where businesses can help. Imagine you have thirty employees all with food leftover at the end of the week. It’s going to cost a soup kitchen much more to visit each employee and pick up the food waste. Wouldn’t it be better if everyone brought in their food waste and the charity made one trip to the workplace?

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You may enjoy this article: Key characteristics of ethical business cultures.

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That’s a really easy way for businesses to help solve the food waste problem (and indeed, lots of similar problems – businesses could have a ‘charity shop’ function where they accumulate items from employees and then the charity comes by once a month/year to pick up the giant donation).

Aside from this, there are many other ways businesses can help:

Incentivising the use of local shops – businesses can support the local economy and encourage people to just buy what they need by facilitating easy access to local eco-friendly shops (a lot of food waste is generated by supermarkets who reject 20% to 40% of vegetables for cosmetic reasons)

Encouraging employees to bring lunch from home – many of us buy lunch from shops, even though we have an abundance of food at home – see further down in the article for how much money this costs every year

Providing education and advice on reducing food waste in personal lives

  • Fridges should be kept below five degrees Celsius
  • Store cupboards should contain staples – such as tomatoes and pasta – so that food that’s about to go off can be used to make easy meals
  • We should cook less if we aren’t going to freeze the leftovers or cook more and freeze the leftovers into manageable portions
  • Make weekly meal plans to incorporate all available food in the kitchen – this also reduces ‘impulse buying’ as we know what we need at the supermarket
  • Tell them about foods we don’t often think can be frozen: skinless bananas, potatoes (after being blanched), hard cheese, chillies, ginger and herbs.
  • Inform them on how to make the best of food that’s past it’s best – stale bread can be made into beadcrumbs and frozen and slightly sour milk can be made into scones and pancakes
  • Asking for ‘doggy bags’ when eating out to take food home – often the leftovers can form the mainstay of another meal, but embarrassment can prevent people from asking.
  • Supermarket selling tacticsMartin Lewis of moneysavingexpert.com calls supermarkets ‘almost perfectly honed marketing environments.’ But there are ways to fight back, such as always going to the supermarket after a meal and working to a meal plan to prevent impulse purchases
  • Providing staple foods at work – bread/pasta – so that employees can bring in leftovers to be made into a full meal

The economic benefit to YOU

Solving food waste isn’t just good for battling extreme poverty and helping the environment. There are economic benefits to individuals. Here’s an example: there are 253 working days in 2013. If your daily lunch costs £5, you’ll spend £1265 a year on lunch. Meanwhile, you’ll be chucking away – on average – 20% of the food you buy. An ONS study in 2011 found that households spent on average £53.20 a week on food and non-alcoholic drinks – so that’s £10.64 a week or £553.28 down the drain. If you take the most basic step – making your lunch from the food you would normally waste instead of buying it out – you’ll save £1265 a year. If you go further – cutting down on how much you buy by planning meals – you’ll save even more.

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence
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