This week, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall returned to tackle waste in the UK.
Britons buy 14 million tonnes of food a year. Almost all of which is obtained from one of the Seven supermarket chains. We know food is being wasted, we see it with our own eyes. I watched a Tesco staffer put bag after bag of rolls into a refuse sack last night, six rolls per packet. I challenged them on Twitter and they stated
"All bakery waste is processed into animal feed."
My point is simple... Why is human food being mismanaged to such a degree that there has to be a policy on baked goods in the first place? Secondly why Tescos cannot bake to average demand not to over inflated supply projections to make shelves look full rather than sourcing what can be eaten whilst fresh.
Supermarkets have NO EXCUSES every time I buy something in a supermarket they record for me what I have bought and my loyalty card records my every purchase, thus enabling them to target me with customer specific vouchers to encourage me to spend more! They know to the day how many rolls are sold and in every season. Why then over supply to the degree they do, particularly as grain is a costly commodity?
The websites say all the right things
Sainsbury want to "commit to 0% waste"
Tesco aspire to be "world leaders" in food waste.
Hugh decides to check out the situation empirically... He goes Dumpster diving with two youngsters who use the food to feed the public in their cafe Skipchin in Bristol. They actually want the police to arrest them so that the waste can be officially logged, but police do not press charges at the request of the supermarkets
From Tescos they hoarded a plethora of Ferrero Rocher, vitamin tablets, water that is still in date.
From Waitrose literally crates and crates of produce were just thrown away. Whole branches worth of bananas and masses of salad thrown because the sell by dates are on the button. Hugh even had a little tongue in cheek dig at fellow TV Chef Heston Blumenthal when he found one of his ready meals there.
The thing to remember is the sell by date is not about food safety or even taste quality, it is about the produce looking good to the consumer.
Best before and Use By are specifically aimed at public health and safety, but it must be considered that meats can be consumed after this date as long as they are cooked by the Use by dates. You can keep cooked meats in the fridge or freeze completed meals without fear.
3000 tonnes of carrots are wasted by one large supplier because of cosmetic standards. If all the supermarkets all agreed to relax them so much food would not go to waste. If we are not even allowed to see curvy carrots or allowed a broken carrot in our pre packed bag how can we prove that in actual fact if we are given a choice, we will use what is proffered as long as it suits our individual needs. I might want a tiny carrot for grating into a salad and four massive ones for Sunday lunch. If the supermarkets just gave us all the veg that is not diseased, the farmers would not have heaps of surplus that are completely edible, but not uniform, thus left to rot . Who wants to conform anyway? Give me the wonky ones, I'll cook em up with no issues!
We revisit the parsnip farming family,the Hammonds in Norfolk. We met them last episode and I was utterly appalled by the amount they were forced to pile in the courtyard as waste . After 30 years they are having to harvest their last crop. They were told by buyers at Morrisons to bury the TV exposure after Hugh contacted them to discuss why a veritable parsnip mountain was going uneaten.The family are obviously distraught about it, three generations have grown parsnips on their land. The buyers did not even know where Norfolk was on the map, it is a total disconnect from the so called close relationships between suppliers and the stores that are touted by all the stores.
Morrisons responded by setting up a trial using courgettes. Grade 1 and Grade 2 vegetables were displayed side by side to see which consumers went for. The grade two veg are demonstrably older thus less attractive to the consumer presented with newer beautiful veg when charged the same amount. Cost will be a major influence, price the grade two veg accordingly and it will sell.
He meets with Tristram Stewart again to discuss the farmers plight . He states the farmers are held in the thrall of the Supermarkets, afraid that they will lose their custom if they do not comply with the cosmetic standards. The other issue is last minute order cancellations, orders are suddenly reduced. If this happens often it is breaking the law but farmers are afraid to invoke their legal rights and so no supermarkets have been penalised.
The Hammonds are no longer beholden to Morrisons and have myriad examples of cancelled orders, resulting in hundreds of Tonnes of waste and thousands of pounds in lost income. This is not big corporations, these are family farms, people's very livelihoods!
Morrisons representatives meet with Hugh and his attempts to get them to admit any culpability for cancelling orders or giving customers choice to choose lower grade vegetables are totally shut down.. Time perhaps to start voting with our feet.
Incidentally if you are wondering what happens to the waste from supermarkets,well it goes to anaerobic digestion plants to be turned into gas and used in the generation of electricity . The key thing here is that the food waste to be used in this process is not supposed to be "fit for human consumption". Often you can tell that which is delivered is still totally edible. The surplus stock and out of date food is still being delivered in massive quantities.
Organisations like Fairshare try to intercept this surplus. Masses of diet cola bottles with wrong shade of grey on them were set for destruction. The recipe for the drink remains unchanged, it is LABEL that differs only in hue, not design.
Despite offering 150,000 meals a week and saving 2000 charities £20 million, their impact is just 2% of the surplus food from supermarkets.
Hugh sees this food in action when he visits forty children in Merseyside's Toxteth area, a place of high poverty where an after school meal club offers hot meals to children who might not get a proper meal all day. With some stealthy vegetable chameleon work to hide green veg from prying little eyes, pasta meatballs with a gorgeous vegetable sauce fills little tums with food that would otherwise be sent to the energy plant. If Fairshare could salvage a quarter of the total wastage, they could offer 1000,000. free meals!
Household Recycling Waste
Often progress is as simple as just making sure we put the right stuff in our recycling bins. Separating everything is not hard, in fact I get quite the kick out of trampling cans and seeing how much I can squeeze into a council recycling bag. I do not have bins so have to transport bags over to the communal skips which means for me there is more focus on refuse than most householders or my kitchen would fill with foul smelling crud.
Those bananas and. Ferrero Rocher from the skip divers are baked into a delicious cake for the community street party to celebrate the change in the recycling habits of the area featured in the show. They have raised their level of engagement with recycling from 40% to 70% in nine weeks.
150 million pounds is spent on clothes by Britons annually many of which will end up in landfill or incinerated. Clothes are cheaper today and the average person owns four times more garments than we did thirty years ago.
Hugh meets young people who will buy new clothes every two weeks, wear them a handful of times and then they are no longer thought of as wearable. I find this appalling, people are struggling to clothe themselves in the developing world or working in sweat shops in awful conditions to furnish this throwaway lifestyle. Clothes that cost money to produce, thrown away after barely being used is the worst kind of wastefulness. Food is a necessity, after basic needs are met, to cover feet and address the climate of the hour, clothes for image are a luxury that too many take for granted.
I have heard a hundred times women my age say they have to have a new outfit for every new social engagement.. As if being seen twice in the same outfit is shameful and so those of us that have limited funds who have to wear the same clothes feel uncomfortable or embarrassed to show off old faithful LBD again.
Hugh takes 7 tonnes of clothes, 10,000 garments in total to a shopping centre concourse to ask the public how long it takes Britons to throw away the equivalent of that pile, the answer TEN MINUTES! This is shameful when you think of the money wasted.
All these clothes have a cost, financial and environmental... I did some research:
Did you know that the t-shirt and jeans cost the Earth 10,000 litres of water, which is enough to fill a small tanker ? It takes about 2,700 litres of water to make just one t-shirt , which is enough water for one person to drink for 900 days
The production of cotton textiles uses huge amounts of energy, as well as releasing byproducts of starch, paraffin, dyes, pesticides and other harmful pollutants into the air and soil and this is under regular conditions with no infractions
Each year, over two billion t-shirts are sold worldwide .With the production of one t-shirt using up 3181 litres of water and one pair of jeans using up 6818 litres, it is easy to understand why the call to curb textile waste is urgent.
In a study by Levi's, researchers found that manufacturing one pair of jeans requires 400 mega joules of energy, and expels 71 pounds of carbon dioxide. The amount of carbon dioxide emitted to produce one pair of jeans is equivalent to driving 78 miles. You walk to work to reduce your carbon footprint, but every vest you buy sets you back 20 miles.
Aside from carbon emissions, the remnants of the pesticides sprayed on cotton and the chemicals used to dye, fade, and stonewash clothes all impact. The cotton industry uses 25% of the world's pesticides and herbicides.
A fading agent called potassium permanganate, starch, and indigo dye waste are often released into the same canals used to irrigate local farms. These chemicals sterilise soil and kill seedlings. According to OnEarth.org, 'green jeans' manufacturers may not use pesticides to grow organic cotton, but most organic cotton jeans are treated with conventional chemicals and dyes, which still harm the environment.
Eco-conscious consumers might think that buying organic cotton shirts solves the problem of textile waste, but an organic t-shirt is little help to the environment if it is washed in hot water, dry cleaned, and thrown away with the other 11 million tons of textiles that are thrown each year.
Almost half of the environmental impact of a pair of jeans comes from the jean's use and "end of life."
Machine washing, tumble-drying, and ironing are responsible for 47% of the environmental damage caused by a pair of jeans. Washing jeans less often in cold water, and hanging them out to dry lessens textile waste, considering a dryer consumes five times more energy than a washing machine.
Refraining from dry-cleaning a pair of jeans saves the same amount of energy that it takes to heat a home for 387 hours.
So what can we do to help curb textile waste and protect the environment?
The most effective way to reduce textile waste is to buy used clothing from thrift and charity shops , and donate or reuse your clothes instead of throwing them away. Why throw a shirt into the rubbish where it will waste away in a landfill when you could give it new life instead?
A shirt reused saves the environmental cost of a shirt produced.
These three areas of waste are all easily tackled if we the consumer do our part.
- We can start by demanding edible produce is made available either directly from the supermarket or through donation initiatives after we have been given the chance to take what we need.
- We treat that food correctly and use it like the scarce commodity it is, when we consume it at home. Ensuring we utilise every tip and trick to elongate its life and usefulness.
- We must commit to our local recycling initiative with gusto and use everything we can before considering getting rid of it.
Buying clothes more responsibly, sharing with friends and family and donating the stuff that just does nothing for us anymore.