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The United Kingdom’s ‘This is Rubbish’ Calls for Food Waste Prevention in the Food Industry

The United Kingdom's (UK) This is Rubbish (TiR) is currently seeking funding to help pilot the Industry Food Waste Audit Proposal (IFWAP), its first research project on food waste in the UK's food industry.

The organization—founded in 2009—concentrates on altering food industry practices within food supply chains in order to prevent the 60 percent of all food waste that is generated by the food industry. TiR's campaign strategy to address food waste incorporates public collaboration between policy experts, businesses, and artists. At their events, TiR engages the public by facilitating learning spaces that make food waste activism engaging and participatory.

TiR has two main policy goals—for the government to introduce defined food waste reduction targets for the food industry and to require the food industry undergo and publish the results of an annual, independently-conducted food waste audit.

The UK's public and private sectors have taken some measures to reduce food waste. In 2005, the UK government established the Courtauld Commitment, a voluntary industry agreement that aims to motivate the grocery and retail sectors to reduce food and packaging waste. In 2007, the UK's Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) launched its Love Food, Hate Waste campaign, which aims to reduce food waste at the consumer level by educating households to alter their daily food practices. In the private sector, TESCO—the UK's largest food retailer—has recently dropped some of their buy-one, get-one offers, after a recent study suggested that their discount promotions contributed to a large proportion of produce that was wasted.

According to a 2013 WRAP report, avoidable household food waste has been reduced by 21 percent since 2007. However, the report also notes that households in the UK still waste approximately 4.2 million tons of food and drink annually—the equivalent of six meals per week for the average UK household.

TiR attributes the continuing levels of food waste to the "soft policy" approach the government has taken to addressing food waste. The waste reduction targets the government has set for the food industry are largely voluntary, and TiR argues that more actionable measures to prevent food waste have not received government support. Consequently, TiR has been calling for more hardline, preventative government action to reduce food waste in the UK's food industry through its public food waste "feasts" since 2010.

“The complexities of the supply chain—it’s quite a complex message—so when calling for political and systemic change, actually using the arts helps in softening the quality of policy-speak in order to help people get their head around a complex message—by just getting people to enjoy and eat,” said Caitlin Shepherd, co-founder of TiR.

In the summer of 2011, TiR began a year-long Food Waste Tour of eight communities in Wales to advocate for the reduction of UK industry level food waste. In each of the communities, TiR partnered with local artists and musicians, policy experts and businesses to set up pop-up food waste cafés, host workshops and games, and theatrical food waste feasts to educate the public and advocate for industry-wide food waste policy change.

In a report on the results of the "Feast" tour, TiR reveals that they used approximately two tons of food over the course of the tour. TiR cooked three-course meals for up to one hundred participants with ingredients that were nearly all surpluses donated from farms, processing plants, and food retailers.

Throughout the "Feast," TiR met with companies and business and government representatives in order to gather information about existing business practices and push for mandatory industry-wide food waste auditing and reporting. At the venues, TiR argued that food waste interventions should focus more on preventing food waste rather than intervening when food waste has already been generated and needs to be recycled and redistributed.

“At the beginning, we were all artists as well as sustainability activists—and thinking about how the medium is the message," said Shepherd. "So we thought of what medium we could use to connect with people and show them the true value of food, and eating together and pop-up tours was a really great way to bring people together and show them how good food is and how good food was being devalued by the system. Eating is something everyone knows how to do—we wanted to be accessible to the masses—not just to those already-seeking-change-makers.”

TiR's upcoming project, IFWAP, aims to facilitate a dialogue between all individual and organizational stakeholders across the food supply chain in the UK. TiR hopes to use the research gathered through the project to inform their future campaign strategy and to learn how to better introduce policy mandating food waste reduction targets and audits in the UK's food industry.

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