I have a distant memory from a few years ago of a family appearing on the BBC Breakfast TV show. Live on air they were proudly filmed throwing into the bin a single sack of waste; the total rubbish they had accumulated in a whole year: “Do you use toilet paper?” asked Sian Edwards innocently.
The feature really stuck with me, but I never took seriously the idea that it would be anything more than just the odd hippie trying to achieve a zero waste life in modern society.
From that isolated family to today we have a veritable obsession with living zero waste and there are a growing number of people, not just single families, embracing the concept at both home and in business.
When you see the facts you can see why we’re getting fixated on what we throw away:
- Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted.
- The food currently wasted in Europe could feed 200 million people each year
- UK households binned £13bn worth of food in 2015, meaning the average UK household wasted £470 worth of perfectly useable food
But rather than getting gloomy about the facts, there are ingenious folks out there who have chosen to do something about it and even formed businesses around the concept.
In just the last few months I’ve listened to a podcast with Chef Dan Barber of Selfridge’s’ pop-up restaurant WastED, watched mixologist Rich Woods make cocktails with waste food for London’s Duck & Waffle and read news of the UK’s first zero waste shop opening in Devon. Zero waste just got cool.
I first met Hannah McCollum of hummus brand ChicP at HBC x Meet in October 2016. ChicP is a range of healthy, punchy hummus made from surplus vegetables. Her products have reached the epitome of mainstream now being stocked in the likes of Selfridges and Fortnum & Mason.
Rubies in the Rubble is another venture working directly with UK farmers, sourcing fresh fruit and veg from their surplus produce to create relish, ketchup and sauces. Each jar is jam-packed with ingredients that would otherwise be discarded.
“At the beginning we’d tell people our products are made from fruit and veg that would otherwise go to waste and you could see them going ‘eurgh’,” founder Jenny Dawson Costa says. “I actually think that we need to stop saying ‘waste’. I don’t know the best way to describe it but calling it waste immediately seems like something’s wrong with it when it’s just natural.”
Toast Ale is another brand actively seeking out waste produce and turning it into something delicious. They source fresh, surplus bread that would otherwise be wasted and combine it with barley to make beer; there’s the equivalent of a slice of bread in each bottle. Want an even better feel good factor as you sip? They pour (pun intended!) all the company profits into charity FeedBack, trying to put a stop to global food waste (check out the YouTube video).
For a generation posting photos of our perfect looking food on Instagram the zero waste mentality highlighted by these companies and more gives us all pause for thought.
Maybe now is the time to stop searching for the perfect avocado and start embracing those leftovers.