Is solving the waste crisis just a waste of time?

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food waste plastic bag on wooden table

The food industry, like many industries, is continuously battling the issue of waste.
From food waste to packaging, the sector continues to look for solutions of how to reduce and reuse waste goods and stop the waste crisis.

The Food Matters Live Podcast regularly features exciting innovations and programs that are committed to either generating new products from waste, or significantly reducing the creation of it in the first place. Through meeting with experts, we ask the question: what can we do?

Could food waste really become fuel for planes?

Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is not a new concept. Biofuels already exist and are being used in the aviation industry. However, at the moment biofuels are created using crops specifically grown for that intended use. Although better than using traditional fossil fuels, it still involves the energy and resources needed to grow new crops.

Stefan Gates met with Derek Vardon, Research Scientist and Project Team Leader at the Natural Renewable Energy Laboratory to discuss the program he works on, which involves turning food waste into fuel.

Derek highlights the issues surrounding the generation of a fuel from waste to create something that is identical to traditional jetliner petroleum, including the challenge of scaling up once the product is approved. 

In this episode, they discuss the carbon cycle, and how through waste like food, sewage and water, there is a huge amount of carbon that is not capitalised on, and see what it could offer the aviation industry in the years to come. 

What the key to reducing household food waste might be

UK households still waste 4.5M tonnes of food a year that could be eaten, in fact the majority (71%) of edible food waste in the UK happens in the home. David Hall the Founder & Executive Director at Behaviour Change and Tessa Clarke the Co-founder & CEO at OLIO spoke to Stefan about the different ways we can inspire people to waste less. 

When we think about human instincts, food is a life source and many cultures have developed to have food at the heart of them. Combined with our unpredictable lifestyles and the enormous amount of discounted foods on offer in shops, which has been widely criticised, it is understandable how having enough food and sometimes too much food happens. 

Both David and Tessa discuss the importance of understanding that most people do not set out to waste food. It is the series of decision points from purchase to throwing away that we need to approach and understand why we are wasting produce. If we find those decision points, we can find the opportunities to save food and then change the trajectory of that product. Pinpointing the moments when people make decisions, and finding strategies to tackle and alleviate the challenges people face when they throw food away is key to solving the issue of waste.

There is also a behavioural piece to consider. How can we tap into the human need to not get left behind? People innately want to be included. Instilling the sense that the larger community no longer considers wasting food to be socially acceptable is integral to implementing systemic change within households.

Food waste or plastic waste: what’s the biggest challenge?

Similarly to the last episode on food waste, speakers Leela Dilkes-Hoffman, Project Manager – Innovation, New Plastics Economy at Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Toine Timmerman, Programme Manager Sustainable Food Chains at Wageningen University & Research and Helén Williams, Associate Professor in Environmental and Energy Systems at Karlstad University all agreed that food waste is a largely behavioural issue.

Leela also reframes the idea that plastic is the enemy, instead suggesting it is the way we use it in our food system that is. The industry produces 350 million tonnes of plastic per year with 25% going into packaging. Often it is not considered during production what will happen to that plastic once used. 32% is not disposed of properly and ends up leaking into the environment. Only 14% of plastic packaging is currently being collected globally. 

The panel goes into detail about whether food waste or plastic waste is the greater threat to the planet, and how plastic could play a role in reducing food waste.

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