Opinion: Love food, hate waste

Food-WasteI cannot be the only Liberal Democrat who was appalled by the scale of the food waste which had been calculated earlier this week by our largest food supplier, Tesco.

According to Tesco’s research something like 40% of apples, or half of bagged salad, or half of bakery items end up in the bin, either put there by the stores themselves (because they’ve decided it’s not fit to sell), or put there by us the consumer (because we’ve decided it’s not fit to eat).

Similarly I cannot be the only Lib Dem councillor who doesn’t experience ‘bins and bin collection’ as a constant issue with local residents. (Too many, too full, not often enough, etc., etc.). Yet the link between Tesco’s food waste and the waste collection and disposal services provided by our local authorities wasn’t made in the coverage on food waste this week.

Tesco is clearly responsible for its own waste (the cost of which is no doubt a very significant driver in its enthusiasm to reduce it). But it is us, the local authorities, who have to dispose of all those uneaten apples and crusty baps. Not only that, but we’re also expected to dispose of the ridiculous level of packaging that surrounds almost every item of food we now consume – much of which (anything from cartons to soft plastics) is not recyclable in the doorstep collection in many areas.

Supermarkets have a lot to answer for in this waste mountain, but we’ve also made it easy. We’ve provided people with bigger and bigger bins to put the most bulky packaging in (cardboard, bottles, plastic bottles, etc.). The system rewards us for the tonnage of packaging we collect. Most of us are now providing huge bins for organic waste to put all that uneaten food in.

We feel good that our residents’ cardboard is recycled, as is their glass and plastic. We feel even better when we turn all their food waste into garden compost and sell it back to them. But all of this costs money, and more importantly it is a huge energy and carbon producing industry of bins, bin lorries, processing and re-making which, if we think rationally, is not sustainable.

Well done Tesco for making a start on this problem. The next great next step will be to get them, and ourselves, to tackle packaging. Even better, copy our sensible European neighbours who sell things in re-usable containers (I am old enough to remember my mother saving my Ribena bottle to take it back to the shop in return for a few pence.)

But Tesco can only go so far. As politicians we have a role in leading a change in society. The last few decades have been all about recycling. We’ve won that argument hands down. The next few decades need to be about a massive reduction in waste.

* Tim Pickstone is Chief Executive of ALDC (the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors) and is National Spokesperson on Grassroots Campaigning

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7 Comments

  • Tim, several points I will try to make as we go on. But first, REUSE as the first thing you do before recycling (according to the hierarchy Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. There must be many ways of reducing, The issue you raise of sending bottles back for a few pence to a shop is a key one. Campaigners have regularly over 20 or 30 years tried to get that reinstated, despite the fact that many other countries, including others in the EU do it. The excuse is always trotted out that it is too expensive to do it that way, and of course, in extremis, producers will say it uses more energy in transport, cleaning etc. What this says, of course, is more about our economic models, our accountancy methods etc. Some years ago, Paddy Ashdown was heavily into devising and implementing new economic measures etc to take our society towards where we need to go. David Boyle has been another influential thinker along these lines. Paddy didn’t get very far with it. What we need now from the Party is to move away from our transatlantic models of economics and accountancy. This Party, prior to 2010 claiming to be the Party of “the new politics” has currently sold out. Acknowledge we got it wrong in 2010, with perpetual U turns to justify our seismic decision then, We need a group of influential people to take us back there. I hope you are one of them, Tim.

  • Helen Dudden 23rd Oct '13 - 9:41am

    I also complain about the spending here, in Bath by your councilors.

    We have solar bins, and propose to cut childrens services to the vulnerable. The CAB is another cut.

    If we cut services to those who need services and argue who is vulnerable? Do you not feel that we will be putting ourselves in situation where problems with children and society becomes worse.

    I have been involved with international law, and child retention and abduction. Would you believe that this causes problems with eating disorders and self harming. We have various situations where children need help, this has to be forthcoming, so that they have at least a chance to have a happier life.

    Would an elected councilor understand the above situation, life is very complicated and we should all be willing, to listen and learn.

  • A Social Liberal 23rd Oct '13 - 6:44pm

    To be fair, it isn’t all the supermarkets fault. They have to abide by the law setting down compulsary sell by dates – or are people on here advocating the selling of fish, chicken and pork that is not that fresh, or keeping in stock baked goods that are stale, fruit and vegatables which are badly bruised or rotting? Similarly with ready meals and part cooked vegatables.

    Apparently a main reason for food wastage is ensuring supply by overpurchasing. So, unless you are prepared to do without your fresh produce or do not mind buying stuff that is off, then you have to accept that food wastage is going to happen.

  • “Families are wasting an estimated £700 a year”
    I don’t know about you but I think this shows how stupid- there is no other word for it! a lot of people are.
    We are supposed to be struggling to pay bills and then throw £14 out the window every week!
    Of course it helps when you live alone, as I do; but I only buy the things I am going to use. Then I use it! e.g.;Things like a granary loaf will last a week if double wrapped every time it is put in the bread bin. If it is getting towards the end of the week I will make a point of making meals that contain enough bread to finish it.
    Is it so difficult to buy enough fruit- to eat so much each day- and then eat it?
    This may sound incredible to some “wasters” but in the last year- food wise, all I have thrown away is 1/4 of a loaf of bread(white doesn’t last as long).
    And for Mr Pickles- I put my black and green bins out roughly once every three months.
    I really do think that a lot- if not most, people have become useless at simple stuff.
    Simple stuff like wearing thermal underwear and turning down the thermostat.
    People really have become wasters- food, energy, clothes etc, etc.
    I have no sympathy for people that can’t be bothered to think.

  • Ordinary people did not waste much food 50 years ago because they could not afford to do so. Only the idle rich did that. Many people (not all of, course) have more money than they know how to handle so they waste it on things they do not need especially food where at least they have the excuse that it might have gone off or be past its sell by date or they do not fancy it any more. Waste is the product of affluence. There were always wasters even years ago but not on the present scale. A Tory minister was harried for suggesting we should use up some left overs. I wonder why. I thought we were supposed to be the socially responsible, environmentally friendly people.

  • Anne Diamond 25th Oct '13 - 11:51pm

    Why can’t we recycle food waste back to the farmers, I remember when I was at school sometime ago the school dinners went recycled for the pig s .
    This I hope is done still it could also be used to enrich the land not as land fill but as compost.
    Does this happen if not why not.

  • Given that many people are obese or overweight, actually a lot of the food that is eaten is also “wasted”, as it is being put somewhere it doesn’t need to be.

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