By Graham Brown - CVS Operations and Insights Lead
I am writing this article having returned from a visit to FareShare Merseyside with Councillor Anna Burton – Food Poverty/Food Security champion for Cheshire East Council. Was it good luck or good planning that it coincided with the launch by His Majesty King Charles III of the Coronation Food Project - designed to reduce waste whilst also reducing some hunger.
There’s was no coincidence that FareShare, alongside The Felix Project, were named as the key partners for this new initiative. For the uninitiated FareShare, is one of the leading UK surplus food redistribution charities sharing food from some of the UK’s top food companies to nearly 8,500 charities and community groups. A number of these charities and groups are based in Cheshire East. The Felix Project support organisations in London.
So why this focus on surplus food
Well, the figures are stark. Over 3 million tonnes of good-to-eat food goes to waste in the UK food industry every year, enough for 7 billion meals1. Yet 14 million people face food insecurity in the UK2.
The diagram below shows the figures for food waste across each stage of the food supply chain.
There are of course wider environmental impacts too with wasted food responsible for up to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which fuel climate change3.
So, what is the Coronation Food Project all about…
Their goal is to dramatically increase the amount of surplus food that’s rescued from going to landfill from across the country.
They hope to achieve this by working across the supply chain with farmers, producers, manufacturers, distributors and supermarkets to save more safe fit to eat food. They are also looking to enhance the sector’s logistics capacity to redistribute more food more effectively to more communities including the creation of Coronation Food distribution Hubs across the UK, with initial hubs being planned for Glasgow, Liverpool, Northern Ireland & London. These hubs, along with expanded warehouses, fridges, freezers, vans and drivers, will fast-track the transit of food to communities in need.
So, whilst 8,500 charities already rely on surplus food supplies. There are many more on waiting lists at FareShare and other organisations, standing ready to accept support.
Importantly grants and seed funding will be provided to inspire, empower and enable community groups to find new ways to support people most in need. Grant Applications should open in the new year.
This project builds on a previous initiative from His Majesty in December 2022 when he launched £1million fund which distributed over 800 commercial fridges and freezers to key locations across all four nations of the UK. These are helping food charities rescue tonnes of additional fresh and frozen surplus food every week – food that was at risk of being wasted. This first initiative highlighted the urgent need to do more.
What does this mean for Cheshire East?
Those who joined us at the launch of the Cheshire East Food Alliance will know that one of the themes of the Right to Food strategy is supporting a shift towards a sustainable food system. Indeed, attendees made it clear that reducing food waste should be one of the key aims of the Alliance. Specifically, ‘developing / supporting a surplus food model – including collaboration with producers, manufacturers and growers (farmers)’ was identified as a priority. There’s also an aspiration to set up what is known as a Gleaning Network – so working with growers to harvest and use any surplus they may have.
There’s clear synergy between what we want to do locally and this new national initiative. With a focus being brought to these issues – it may make it easier to make progress locally. Let’s hope so!
The initiative offers more food, better logistical support, and more funding. All things that Charity and Community groups across Cheshire East have highlight as challenges they face. There are plans for more Coronation Food Distribution Hubs so, maybe we alongside Chester West Voluntary Action and Warrington Voluntary Action – who lead the food insecurity work in their respective areas - we could successfully bid for one. How exciting would that be?
What else needs to be done to address food waste?
Those of us who have been working with surplus food have been frustrated by the difference in the volumes of food available – it can literally be feast or famine. So, anything that shines a light on food waste and how it can help those in need has to be applauded. His Majesty The King has been a champion of the circular economy, farming communities and increasing our food security for many decades, so it feels like this is project is coming from a good place.
But if were serious about tackling food waste, addressing the issues within the food supply chain isn’t enough as around 50% of food waste happens in people’s homes. Cheshire East Council back in 2019 launched a campaign to reduce food by encouraging residents to buy less, use leftovers, freeze when possible and from January 2020 to recycle food waste, instead of using the black bin. The campaign aimed to highlight that residents could save money as well as the environment. One of main themes was clearing up the confusion over use-by and best before dates on packaging as uncertainty around these areas has a direct impact on the volume of food waste collected.
With food costs remaining high (despite falling inflation) is there an opportunity to rerun such a campaign? Maybe around the national Love Food, Hate Waste campaign next year!
Food charities and community groups are continuing to face increasing demands from more people struggling to make ends meet. We all know that we can’t beat food poverty through waste reduction alone. But saving food and circulating it through charities and community groups to people in need is a vital place to start.
1. This meals calculation estimated by using 420g as a meal size, giving 2,381 meals from 1 tonne of surplus, which is the standard calculation recommended by WRAP. The wastage figure combines the WWF’s (2022) research into waste in primary production with WRAP’s (2022) research on post-farm gate waste.
3.The Food Foundation (2023). Food Insecurity Tracking. Round 12.