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Food Waste Around the World, Episode 13: England

Food Waste Around the World is a Food Circle’s project aimed at providing information and raising awareness about food waste. The project is designed as a series of interviews with students coming from different countries with the aim of understanding how this issue is tackled and perceived around the world. This is made possible thanks to Sapient, the mother company of Food Circle, which every year offers internships to students from all around the world creating a unique multicultural environment.

Today we speak with Katinka, from England!

“Every year, the UK wastes 4.5 million tonnes of food. [...] There’s hope though - over the past three years, per person, food waste has gone down by about 7%. “


Hello Katinka, welcome to this interview and thank you for participating in the project Food Waste Around the World. To start, could you tell me a little bit about yourself and where are you from?

Hi thanks for inviting me to get involved. I'm from London but for the last year I've been studying abroad in Amsterdam.

Good to see you here, Katinka. Can you tell us a little bit about the food waste situation in London? What do you know about food waste and what do you do to reduce your waste?

Every year, the UK wastes 4.5 million tonnes of food. The household food wasted over the last 3 years, I think, equates to around 10 billion edible meals. There’s hope though - over the past three years, per person, food waste has gone down by about 7%. There was even more hope at the start of lockdown as food waste really dropped - by a third less than usual - but sadly it’s now back to normal levels. As a student, I tend to cook a lot of my food in batches anyway and this is effective because it forces you to plan ahead and so we end up wasting less. We try to buy our fruits and vegetables from local markets where you can buy the wonky organic vegetables that they won't sell you in the supermarket. Back home in London we’ve started composting. Recently there’s been an increase in composted food waste across London. Composting is a great solution because it returns the food waste to the ground and is also great for your plants. I also heard a crazy fact the other day that if the UK stopped wasting uneaten bread, the CO2 savings would equate to more than half a million flights from London to New York.

Wow, that’s really crazy! That’s why we work as Sapient to stop “Food Waste Around The World”. Let’s move onto the next question. Who is really driving the attention or raising the awareness about the food waste issue? Is it more the government or non governmental organizations or small communities? What do you think?

The UK government still follows the same legislation as the European Union Waste Framework Directive and the landfill directive. However, London follows The London Plan, which includes targets that would see Londoners working towards zero biodegradable and recyclable waste to landfill. By 2026 the plan aims to ensure half of London's municipal waste is recycled or composted. In reality though, the impact of social media and non-governmental organizations are huge; I find it really helpful following these pages so you keep it front of mind.

Are you aware of any more specific initiatives to address food waste?

In Amsterdam, I’m aware of Too Good To Go, Taste before you Waste and Instock. Instock runs a restaurant using food waste from large distributors and supermarkets. Instock also runs a distribution system receiving surplus and waste produce from large supermarkets and selling it to large companies. Too Good To Go is an app that reduces food waste by offering bundles of unsold food at a discounted price from cafes, restaurants and supermarkets. It's also a great way to save money whilst reducing food waste. Taste Before You Waste, a foundation to reduce consumer food waste. I've attended their bi-weekly ‘Wasteless dinners’ a few times. They prepare the rescued food and create delicious, affordable dinners.

In London, there are tons of organisations doing stuff to help, including WRAP, City Harvest and Oddbox. WRAP is a charity, which releases studies compiling research on food waste. Their most recent report, ‘The Food We Waste’, outlined the current management of food waste in the UK. City Harvest is a charity that gives food another life. It redistributes surplus food from markets, manufacturers and retailers.

In London, I use several apps, including, Karma, Too Good To Go and MealPal. All 3 function on the same premise as Too Good To Go.

Do you think the government will do more in the future? Do you think that food waste is a priority on their agenda?

In January this year, the government announced a £1.5 million fund to address food waste in households and supply chains. This money will fund businesses and charities across England to develop creative solutions to tackle food waste. This forms part of a wider £15 million fund to tackle surplus food from the retail and manufacturing sectors. It’s so good to see bits of the budget earmarked for combating food waste.

WRAP has just launched a campaign - ‘Keep Crushing It’, which is trying to maintain that lockdown attitude to food waste.

At last, what do you think could be the possible next steps taken by the different organizations? Do you think it needs to come from the community following a bottom up approach or top down from the government?

If we are going to meet the UN target of halving global food waste by 2030, both community-based solutions and government solutions are required. WRAP is a great example of this collaboration. It acts as the government’s waste advisory body.

A focus on shifting public debate on food waste from consumerism to disposal would be effective. Accepting, that a level of waste is inevitable and diverting the conversation to how best to dispose of this waste. In London the three main concerns for food waste are hygiene, odour and the fumes from burnt waste. A campaign to promote composting or repurposing food waste would help reduce UK food waste.

In order for real, lasting change, the government should introduce legislation that requires food businesses to report publicly on food waste progress. The food waste reduction targets have potential, however, they must be made legally binding if they are to be effective.

That would be it. Thank you very much Katinka!

Thank you!


Interviewer: Ceyda Gezbic

Interviewed: Katinka Rowland Payne

Editor and writer: Ceyda Gezbic

Organizations mentioned in the interview:

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