Food: one’s waste is another feast

Kate Chambers, Vegware Ltd

15 Jun 2018 -



We nurture and energise ourselves with food. The word itself has its etymology in ‘fuel’. Fuel for the soul. It is food that makes us, it grows us. If we are lucky, food fills our bodies and minds each day, propelling us into the day. It moves us. And yet, so often we are filling not just ourselves, but our waste bins with it. In many cases, we are using our energies to move food straight to waste. It happens in our homes: blue-mouldy bread, sprouting yellow potatoes, souring milk. All of it is brought in a hurry and chucked away just as fast.


We have a problem with food waste. It’s sickening. Look at the figures, and you may choke on your lunch. Household food waste has been increasingly each year, with UK families throwing away 7.3 million tonnes of uneaten food in 2015. That equates to around £700 per household each year. Many of us are putting hard earn cash straight into the bin.


If good food is central to our well-being, performance and relationships, why do many of us treat it so badly? There are many complex reasons, with food waste becoming a modern-day ‘wicked problem’. Great organisations and charities are working hard to tackle this cultural phenomena and change behaviours, but there is a lot more to do done.


As we tip soggy salad or forgotten vegetables into our food waste caddies, how many of us have any idea where all those resources will end up? Do you ever wonder what happens to this so-called ‘waste’? The journey is fascinating.


If you throw food scraps into your general waste bin, it will start on a path towards landfill or incineration. In some cases, your household waste may go for mechanical biological treatment (MBT), where a technological process attempts to extract the organic fraction – maybe some of your leftover dinner? – from the non-recyclable materials. This process works hard to recover value (and energy) from materials that many of us think are worthless. We could not be more wrong!


The real wonder begins when we source segregate our food waste, sorting out vegetable peelings and unfinished meals into food caddies. Although this food is no longer good for nourishing us, it is whisked off to feed other hungry mouths in the organics recycling sector. Anaerobic digestion (AD) plants gobble up our unwanted food. The sealed tanks are void of oxygen, and as organic materials break down methane is captured in the process and transforming it into a useful biogas. Just as food is a fuel to us, this creates renewable energy, which can fuel our modern lives with electricity and heat. Composting facilities are peckish for our food and garden waste combined. In-vessel composting (IVC) mimics natural processes by combining heat, moisture and microorganisms to create conditions that change our waste into nature’s perfect meal: a nutrient-rich fertiliser that allows tired depleted soils to become revitalised. This is essential to preserving our soils, but also helps us in our fight against climate change. Everybody’s satisfied.


When we feed our friends, our families, our own bodies, we call it nourishment. We have a deep cultural connection to food as we consume it. But when we chuck food into our bins, we call it waste and give it little thought. We need to change our lazy relationship with food, from how we buy it to how often we eat it to how much we throw away. And we need to stop calling it waste. Even when we no longer want to eat it, food is never wasted if treated right.

About the author:

Kate is an English Literature graduate, working in sustainability. She is a member of CIWM and a volunteer with the 2050 Climate Group, Scotland's youth climate charity. Her passions include heated discussions, good coffee, and losing an afternoon in the library. You'll find her around Edinburgh.



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