Food for thought

Food Waste - an issue for us all

Local teenager, Amelia Gilchrist (above with team mate Zoe) was a member of a team from Altrincham Girls Grammar School which recently won a competition organised by the University of Manchester – the Eco Factor Project. This was a competition for schools in the Manchester area who were asked to develop a scheme that would benefit the environment in their local community.

Amelia was a member of one of the three teams to enter the competition from Altrincham Grammar School for Girls, and she and her friends decided to address the issue of food waste. The girls were only too aware that one third of food purchased globally is wasted. Their research discovered that food waste has a serious impact on the environment because most of it ends in landfill where it decays and produces the potent greenhouse gas methane. There is also an embedded energy cost of producing, packaging and transporting the food which, it is claimed, produces the equivalent of at least 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year.

Food waste has a serious impact on the environment

The paper the team submitted to the project was entitled ‘Food for Thought’ and it contained the following shocking statements based on their extensive research;

‘If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world, after China and the US. As well as this, if we all stopped wasting food that could have been eaten, the benefit to the planet would be the equivalent of taking 1 in 4 cars off the road.’

The girls realised that supermarkets are a significant factor in food waste. They encourage shoppers to buy more food than they need with ‘Buy One Get One Free ‘promotions. They are required to comply with regulations regarding how food should stay on the shelves, forcing them to dispose of edible food once it has passed its sell by date.  The girls realised that there are so many supermarkets in our area that the level of food waste locally must be quite significant.

Research amongst local shops showed a variety of methods of dealing with food past its sell by date – some simply attempting to sell at a discount and then discarding any food left whilst others had innovative ideas including the conversion of food waste into fuel and donations to food banks.

However, it is consumers who purchase the food so Amelia and her team decided to target their behaviour. To do so they prepared a lunch made of food that had passed its sell by date. As they were unable to purchase this ‘old’ food due to the restrictions imposed on supermarkets, they bought food and left it several days beyond its best before date. They used the food to prepare a lunch of soup made from vegetables and cake from bananas that had been allowed to go very brown!

Amelia and her team prepared lunch with food that was past its sell by date.

Twenty-five people attended the lunch and took away recipe cards and storage tips so that the message could be spread beyond these guests.  The team also proposed the idea of setting up an on-line platform where users can share ideas about reducing food waste. Amelia’s team will be using the £500 prize to set up a lunchtime club to further the project.

The team devised a list of tips to reduce food waste. Brown bananas still make delicious cake!

Amelia’s involvement in the project has further developed her interest in the environment and she is now preparing to set up a youth section for Manchester of Friends of the Earth to raise awareness of issues like food waste amongst other young people. The first meeting will hopefully be on a Sunday in April and anyone of secondary school age is very welcome.. 


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