Food waste is a hot topic, with media and celebrity attention raising its profile in recent months. In a throwaway society, where the real value of food is all too easily forgotten in the flurry of two-for-one offers at the supermarket, we’ve become accustomed to discarding a large proportion of the food we buy. Nevertheless, as the environmental impact of this becomes obvious, there are organisations working to turn things around, salvaging edible food and redistributing it.
A new project, piloted this year, is aiming to reduce the amount of waste at music festivals by collecting, sorting and redistributing unwanted but edible food from both traders and festival campsites. Music festivals are an established feature of the British summer. From giants like Glastonbury and Reading to smaller events featuring local talent, crowds of people flock to the festivals, and these crowds need feeding. Food vendors selling burgers, pizzas, crepes and pies are almost as important to the success of the event as the music itself. As the festival goers head home at the end of the weekend, some of the traders are left with unsold food, while yet more food is abandoned at campsites. Many will donate what they can to local charities or share it among friends but, where there is no other option, perishable foods like bread and salads may well end up in landfill. Aside from wasting good food and the resources used to produce it, the rotting food produces methane and carbon dioxide – two potent greenhouse gases.
EighthPlate is a food collection organisation that has been set up through a collaboration between FareShare South West, the Nationwide Caterer’s Association (NCASS) and A Greener Festival. Attending seven festivals over the summer months, the organisation collected over 23 tonnes of food waste – redistributing it to vulnerable people in local communities in the form of almost 53,500 meals. EighthPlate’s mission goes beyond simply salvaging and redistributing perfectly good food, they also want to quantify and identify the causes of this waste problem.
The problem of food waste at festivals had only been addressed in an informal way before. Emma Dyer of EighthPlate says: “Most festival organisers were really happy to have the opportunity to do something about the issue, a lot of them had already recognised there was a problem and were happy that there was now a solution.”
Running the pilot project this year allowed EighthPlate to test different approaches for promoting their work among traders and festival attendees in order to maximise participation. They were also able to develop flexible and efficient collection and distribution processes, as each festival had its own set of logistical problems. At every festival they attended, the EighthPlate team found traders were keen to be involved in the project and happy to donate their excess food. Arriving on site, one of the most important first jobs for the team was advertising the collection service among both food vendors and festival attendees. Posters were used at campsites to raise awareness, while fridge stickers were handed out to traders detailing which foods were suitable for collection.
The team also trialled a collection hotline, allowing food traders to contact them as soon as they had food ready for collection. This meant that perishable items like salads could be picked up and delivered to local organisations more quickly, further reducing wastage. The pilot was a chance for all involved to find out more about which foods were being wasted and how much waste there was. “All of the festivals were more than happy with the outcome and everyone was surprised at the amount of food collected, especially the amount of bread,” says Emma.
Working with a range of festivals has allowed the whole operation to be trialled and streamlined. At Glastonbury, which was the largest festival EighthPlate attended, almost 7,500kg of waste were collected and distributed to 180 organisations. But research suggested that there was a lot more food waste that could be collected in future years. Other festivals had their own features meaning a flexible approach was needed. The Wilderness festival focuses on food as well as music. This meant lots of food stalls using fresh ingredients, and larger amounts of perishable waste than at other festivals. The EighthPlate team dealt with this by delivering smaller amounts of food to as many local organisations as possible – 244 in total.
Talking to the traders at each festival also allowed EighthPlate to research why so much food was being wasted, and what could be done to prevent at least some of this waste. It seems there are three simple things that could go a long way in helping food stallholders determine how much food they will be able to sell at an event. The traders would like to know in advance how many tickets have been sold, where their stall will be situated on site, and how many other food traders will be attending the event.
Now that the festival season has come to an end, thoughts are turning to next year and ways to roll the project out across the UK. The pilot project was supported by funding from the WRAP and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. In future EighthPlate would like to run as a waste management service, charging a modest fee which will allow them to cover costs and grow the business. Talking to traders, they have realised that food waste is an issue at many other public events; county shows, sporting events and street markets could each be sources of food for redistribution. For next summer, Emma Dyer says: “We are looking to attend at least ten music festivals as well as expanding into county shows, sports events and equine shows. The music festival industry is a small part of the outdoor events industry and we would like to investigate these extra areas further.”
Food waste is likely to be an issue for some time, but organisations like EighthPlate are working hard to raise awareness and reduce the amount of good food that ends up in landfill.
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