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'Waste' is often sent to landfill where it gives off methane (a greenhouse gas) as it rots.

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Frontline Online: How can you help to reduce food waste?

January 22rd, 2013

by Lorna Howarth

The Ecologist's Lorna Howarth reports on news and action from the environmental frontline

This is obscene when millions go to bed hungry every night

The recent publication of the UK Institution of Mechanical Engineers' Report, 'Global Food: Waste Not, Want Not' estimated that 30-50% of food produced around the world (or between 1.2-2 billion tonnes) ends up as waste every year. 

This is an obscene statistic when millions of people globally go to bed hungry every night, and it has serious implications for climate change: the amount of fossil fuels used to grow, fertilise, harvest and transport goods that are then thrown away, is immense.

It also puts strain on water resources as many of these wasted crops are irrigated, depleting rivers and reservoirs and leading to conflict 'downstream'. The manner of disposal of this 'waste' must be questioned too. Is it redistributed for social good, composted or as a last resort, burned to create energy from waste? No - much of it is landfilled, producing methane and other greenhouses gases as it rots. What a waste!

One of the reasons for the shocking wastage of perfectly good food is ridiculously limiting sell-by and use-by dates. Food is often safely edible days after its expiry date, but consumers will throw it away because of the use-by date.

Yesterday, I opened a pot of organic yoghurt that had languished in the back of the fridge for well over a week. It was a full NINE days after its use-by date. I had a sniff - it smelt good. I looked for little green patches of mould. There were none. I took a tentative taste - it was delicious and I ate it. 

Clearly, I'm still here to tell the tale and it made me wonder if supermarkets print such limiting use-by dates so that we will throw a perfectly good item of food away and buy a new one, (thus increasing their profits)? We all have to start taking responsibility for food waste if we want to do something about these shocking statistics. 

And don't be fooled by the Buy-One-Get-One-Free (BOGOF) offers either - can you really eat two punnets of strawberries before they go off? 

British supermarkets have acted angrily to the report, saying that they are working hard to provide consumers with recipe and storage advice and are reducing BOGOF offers. Morrisons says it is working directly with farmers and suppliers to actively reduce wastage.

There are lots of pioneering organisations in the UK that are looking at reducing food waste, but one of my favourites is The Gleaning Network, which takes its name from the ancient practice of 'gleaning': the collection of surplus crops after harvest. 

The Gleaning Network aims to address food waste on farms by coordinating local volunteers, growers and food redistribution charities to harvest unwanted fruit and vegetables (rejected because they don't conform to supermarkets' strict 'aesthetic' regulations) and transport them to groups that are helping the most vulnerable members of society. 

To ensure that the maximum amount of surplus produce is saved in the most energy-efficient way, The Gleaning Network established a national network of local 'gleaning hubs', each consisting of local growers, food redistribution charities and volunteers who can rapidly mobilise and work together to harvest and redistribute the produce to local charities. 

To date, five pilot projects have already salvaged several tonnes of apples, cabbages, spring greens and strawberries on farms in Kent, Sussex and Lincolnshire; food which has the been used to make thousands of meals for vulnerable people across the country. Gleaned produce was also used in Feeding the 5000 events in London and Bristol, which provided a free meal for 5,000 people made from food that would otherwise have been thrown away. 

Tristram Stuart, Founder of The Gleaning Network, said: "Amazingly, there has been no systematic study of food waste at the farm level either in the UK or elsewhere in Europe or the US. In my experience, it's normal practice for farmers to assume that 20% to 40% of their fruit and vegetable crops won't get to market [because they are misshapen or the wrong size], even if they are perfectly fit for human consumption."

Want to do your bit to help reduce food waste and tackle hunger?

Find out how by watching;

To find out more about the issues mentioned  in the above article please visit;

Lorna Howarth is a writer and environmentalist. She is a contributing editor to Resurgence & Ecologist magazine and the founder of a small independent publishing ageny, The Write Factor Contact:

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