How to tackle a complex issue like food waste and turn it into action

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How to tackle a complex issue like food waste and turn it into action

By Alex Robinson 9th March, 2023

If food waste were a country, it would be the third biggest polluter in the world. Globally, one third of the food we produce goes to waste, and according to WRAP, £3.5 billion worth of edible food is thrown away each year by UK households. On top of the environmental impact, it’s expensive for households at a time when budgets are more squeezed than ever.

How do you take such a huge, hard-to-grasp issue and help people take practical action that makes a big impact? This is the kind of challenge we love at Hubbub.

It’s Food Waste Action Week, which has got us thinking about how we’ve shifted behaviours to tackle food waste, and what we’ve learned in the process. Here are our top three reflections:

1) Test an idea and scale what works (partnerships are key!)

Community Fridges started with an ambition to cut household waste and help families save money. The first Community Fridge trialled by Hubbub was in 2016 in Swadlincote, Derbyshire. The idea spread and the network grew, helping more people to access nutritious food while cutting both costs and waste.

There are now over 450 Community Fridges across the UK, from schools to community centres, shipping containers to shopping centres. Each fridge is unique, operating differently depending on the location, the group running it and the needs of the local community. All are united around the common purpose of saving fresh food from going to waste.

The growth of the Community Fridge Network also highlights the potential for strategic partnerships to deliver greater impact. Co-op have partnered with Hubbub to support the rapid growth of the network in response to demand, enabling it to triple in size. In 2022, the Community Fridge Network welcomed 1.2 million visitors and stopped an estimated 7,129 tonnes of food from going to waste. That’s enough food to make about 16.9 million meals.

2) Find creative solutions – and don’t be afraid to adapt

A key part of our approach is to start by defining the problem and gathering insights from those on the ground grappling with the issue. We heard that community groups were coming up against challenges in the final stage of redistributing food. Many of these groups are small and run by volunteers. They often rely on volunteers making lots of car journeys to collect small amounts of surplus food from businesses, making the collections of surplus inefficient and difficult to coordinate.

We created Food Connect to tackle the problem. We assembled a fleet of electric cargo bikes to better connect communities with the surplus food available, but we soon discovered that we’d underestimated how much food we’d be collecting at any one time, and added an electric van into the mix. This meant more food could be collected, more efficiently, and still with no emissions! 

Adding a professional paid team of couriers meant more reliable, regular and smooth experiences for food businesses. In its first two years Food Connect created 12 new green jobs and the team saved over 434 tonnes of good food from going to waste – the equivalent of over one million meals.

Starting in Milton Keynes, Food Connect has now expanded to London, and we’re excited to see where it goes next…

3) Spark possibilities with a relatable hook

Hubbub is an environmental charity and we’re here to inspire the widest possible audience to help tackle environmental issues. But we know that when it comes down to it, people are juggling all sorts of priorities. So we meet people where they’re at, taking an issue and finding ways to make it relevant. If the behaviour change has other positive benefits, like saving money or feeling healthier, even better!

An example of this approach is one of our longest-running campaigns, where we tap into Halloween as a hook to change behaviour around food waste. Our research revealed that a big challenge with household food waste is people don’t realise they throw food away. Halloween offers a great opportunity to tackle this: most people in the UK celebrate by carving a pumpkin, but many people don’t know that these pumpkins are edible, meaning millions end up being thrown away.

Now in its 10th year, the Eat Your Pumpkin campaign taps into the ever-increasing popularity of Halloween and aims to make eating pumpkins as big a trend as carving them. Last year we supported community groups across the country to host pumpkin-themed events and served up inspiring tips and info on social media and in cinemas nationwide. Our recipes and ideas gave people a way to save money on food and try something new whilst continuing their Halloween traditions.

We know the word spread, because 44% of the public remember seeing a message about eating your pumpkin last Halloween. Whilst the number of pumpkins being grown and carved has increased, over the last three years alone we’ve seen the proportion of people who know their pumpkin is edible increase from 42% to 59%.

Take a peek at our impact in 2022

What next?

We’ll be building on our work to support community-led reduction of food waste and change behaviours around household food waste. We’ll also continue to support the Community Fridge Network, helping to build resilience in communities around food activities.

As we’ve been looking back on what we’ve learned from our work to tackle food waste, we can’t help think that the same approaches could be applied to other complex issues, like helping Brits to eat less meat and dairy.

We’ve been testing out some ideas in this space, including Sparking Change, Manchester Is Green and Meat Your Match and we have lots more ideas up our sleeves.

If you have an idea you’re keen to test, a problem to solve, or you’re interested in getting ahead of the curve on sustainable diets, please do get in touch.

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