With growing concern and focus on resource issues not just nationally but globally, it is reassuring to learn more about the impact that is achievable through the work of individuals and organisations. With an astonishing statistic that 8.4 million people in the UK, the equivalent of the entire population of London, are struggling to afford to eat, FareShare is just one organisation that has taken on the task to fight food waste and hunger in the UK.
With this in mind, Prospectus Chief Executive David Gold sat down with the Chief Executive of FareShare, Lindsay Boswell, to discuss food waste in the UK - what is being done and how are they doing it?
Before the questions started, Lindsay explained how he became CEO of FareShare. Facilitating an event as CEO of the Institute of Fundraising, with FareShare and Sainsbury’s around a table, Lindsay thought - I would love to work for them. The next Sunday he spotted an advertisement for the CEO role at FareShare. He applied and got the job (dream your future!).
Q 1. Do you have any useful statistics as to the amount of food waste we recover in the UK and is there a realistic maximum? Is zero waste possible?
We currently recover 5% of all food waste and the ambition of the organisation is so much greater than that and realistically achievable. We are talking about food with nothing wrong with it; not even past its sell by date.
In the UK FareShare redistributes food worth almost £37 million to charity. In France they execute 10 times that amount.
Q 2. In 2016 a law came into force in France compelling supermarkets to donate their surplus food to charity. Do you think legislation is the way to create real change in habits and behaviours for businesses?
The French law made no difference; in many ways it was symbolic. It was already happening, but it would be also fair to say that culturally, the French put a higher value on food. More importantly, the extent of recovery of food waste is largely the same in France as throughout the rest of Europe. The UK stands alone in its poor record.
Q 3. How do you feel about the UK Government incentivising food waste to go to incinerators for energy production?
Given that I am a big critic of Anaerobic Digestion it might seem odd that I am also a big fan of the technology. Turning waste into energy is verging on alchemy. Unfortunately, due to the lack of joined up thinking, the infrastructure required for full implementation by local authorities to collect household food waste was never put in place. So the financial incentivisation for biomass energy production has meant that those companies are going to intermediate suppliers - the very market that Fareshare finds appealing.
Q 4. Is it possible to have all the big grocery retailers on board at once and collaborating?
Supermarkets are generally good at minimising waste and are happy to participate in our working groups. The issue actually lies in the supply chain; this is where the biggest potential exists. Often the suppliers overproduce to ensure that they meet their customers (the supermarkets) high standards for delivery and quality. This is where we can find more opportunity. The supermarkets have been very helpful to us in opening the doors to many of their suppliers. A good example is where product is not suitable and the supplier is given 24 hours to come and collect it or it is collected by FareShare. This should continue to grow.
Q 5. When I first met with you I thought FareShare was all about foodbanks but it’s not. Would you talk about how your work impacts on the work of charities?
We supply charities that utilise food to change people’s lives rather than just feeding hungry people. The demand outstrips supply (although one day we would hope that to be reversed). We like to think that we can squeeze all the social goodness out of our food and we like to think we’re greedy about that! In simple terms, we will supply food to those that have a budget for buying it. For example, we believe that if food is used to attract vulnerable people to a charity that can help them, and they receive the highest quality food, the impact of the charity’s work will be more profound.
Q 6. FareShare has seen phenomenal growth in the past years – what has the approach of the Executive Team and Board been to risk making a dream a reality?
Despite great success, the Board have kept their feet on the ground and not rested on our growth, rather they have remained focused on the potential. Secondly, we are incredibly fortunate in having France so close by and so much better than us! Imagine the reaction in this country if they eradicated cancer in France! We also believe that we can do it better than the French at a fraction of their costs, because we are developing a more efficient infrastructure.
Q 7. Has being the CEO of FareShare changed anything at home?
We’ve always been pretty good at playing our part in recycling so the short answer is no. However, inevitably, teenagers really just do what they want to do!
Thanks Lindsay – fascinating.