Community Fridges player a vital part of Rurl Communities
A conversation with Connie Fenner from the Package Free Larder
by Aoife Allen/31th-October-2020
Welcome to Zero Waste Kode, would you like to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do?
Sure, Hi Aimee. So, my name is Aoife Allen and I’m the head of food at Hubbub, which is an environmental charity based in London. At Hubbub, we try to communicate with the broadest possible kind of cross section of the public about environmental issues and our core aim is to make sure that people understand that they can make small changes in their everyday lives, across the things that really matter to them. So, whether it’s food, fashion, the neighbourhood they live in, or their home; all cumulatively will have a really profound impact on the environment.
Could you tell us a little bit about the history of Hubbub and how it’s grown since it was founded?
Absolutely, so, Hubbub was founded five years ago, and it was founded initially as a small compact team of four people. Over the last five to six years of growing to a team of almost 40. So, we’ve expanded really significantly. We’ll work with any partners really who have an ambition to change behaviours and raise awareness around environmental issues. So, we work with a huge broad section, from individuals, to community groups, to local authorities and to corporate large and small. And essentially, we just want to do communications that help people to make those small changes in their life that all add up.
So, one of the main ways you do that is through your campaigns- could you give us a brief overview of the food campaigns you have?
Sure. So, we’ve got a couple of things on the boil at the moment. One of our biggest, and kind of most enduring campaigns right now is called the Community Fridge Network. So, that’s a network of 100 public spaces across the UK, where anybody can drop off surplus food or collect surplus food. It’s not means-tested; you don’t have to be referred to a community fridge, you can just pop in and pick up some extra food for your household when the fridge is open.
So, we have a lot of donations from retailers across the UK in particular, but individuals will sometimes drop off surplus that they have at home too, just within particular guidelines- once the food is unopened and in date. So, yeah, I mean the fridges are a great place to redistribute surplus food, but also to bring people together.
So, they’re also a social space and in many cases also a space for learning. Lots of people also attend cooking classes or other activities, such as community cafes that are linked to the fridges. So, they’re a great opportunity to redistribute surplus food but also to bring people together. That’s one that we have on at the moment and we just hit the 100 fridge mark last week so we’re celebrating that, and we’re really really pleased. Our ambition for the community fridge network over the coming year is not necessarily to grow double the numbers or anything- it’s more to make sure that each fridge is fulfilling its potential as a food hub in its community.
And that need became really really clear during COVID, when we saw that the Community Fridge Network were, kind of, really valuable responders in their community and a lot of places. Some had to wind down their activities because it wasn’t safe for them to continue to operate, but many of them pivoted to essentially a COVID response. And in certain cases, we’re actually delivering food parcels of surplus to the doorstep of vulnerable households that couldn’t leave because they were shielding.
So, I guess we’re really keen to make sure that any fridges possible can develop into those very integrated community food hubs over the next couple of years. Another campaign that we’re running at the moment is a very exciting pilot in Milton Keynes, called Food Connect. This is a food redistribution service where we’ve commissioned a couple of electric bikes and an electric van to collect that surplus food that I’ve already mentioned and bring it to community fridges within the Milton Keynes area. That’s a bit of a test to see how we can tackle what we call the ‘final mile issue’ in food redistribution, where there’s often plenty of resources out there but actually getting into the community and getting it redistributed as surplus for human consumption can be an additional challenge. So, that’s another one that we have on the go at the moment which is going really really well. We’ve got a campaign in Norfolk and Suffolk, so we’re working closely with the local authorities there, to raise awareness around the issue of food waste and hopefully reduce the amount of food that is wasted in those two counties. So, that takes a number of different forms from, you know, very engaging and high visibility installations in towns and villages around the two counties. So, we’ve got a huge social campaign going on, going across the two counties as well, just providing people with really practical solutions that they can undertake at home to reduce their waste. And I think, as we’ll probably discuss in a little bit more detail, we also work closely with some of the retailers around food waste. So, we’ve been doing some campaigning with Lidl over the last couple of months, just supporting them with kind of eye-catching and playful comms around how people can take practical action to reduce their waste at home. And we’ve also be doing a more in-depth campaign with Tesco over the past couple of months where we work closely with the cohort of their customers to tackle their waste at home.
Hubub’s Aoife Allen, head of food
So, could you tell us a little bit more about that Tesco campaign? I think it’s called the No Time for Waste Challenge?
That’s right. So, we set up and we co-designed the ‘No Time For Waste Challenge’ with Tesco during the summer.
We figured out it was a really good moment to speak to people about food waste because, as we’ve touched on briefly, during the COVID crisis people did become that bit more aware of, kind of, making the most of their food and were shopping in a more mindful way potentially than usual, and were more concerned with making sure that everything they bought got eaten.
They were also looking, we knew from our own comms channels, that people were looking for more tips and advice on how to store food and make it last longer.
So, yeah, we partnered up with Tesco, to take some of the kind of key, the most challenging, and the most stubborn, challenges around food waste to a cohort of their customers; so we recruited 55 households from across the UK and we essentially ran a five week campaign where we set a bunch of challenges every week for people to undertake that would allow them to explore things such as correct storage, planning their meals, and eating everything that they buy. At the heart of the campaign was to make sure that it was a lot of fun and that the information was really clear and easy to understand because food waste can feel quite complicated to people and it can be a bit of a knowledge gap around you know, whether you can eat rice the next day for example, or where you should store your bananas. These things seem fairly mundane, but they’re actually really, really important and can make a huge difference in people’s lives as to whether they end up throwing food in the bin or not. So, yeah, the campaign ran for five weeks and at the beginning we ask people to measure their food waste over seven days.
So, literally just have them weigh in any edible waste after dinner each evening, or after their last meal of the day, and then have them do the same thing after five weeks. And we’re still processing the data, but it looks like there’s been a really substantial reduction in people’s waste over that time, and that people’s knowledge and skills have been massively boosted by the campaign.
Would you be able to give us a little bit of background on domestic food waste in the UK? So how much households waste, how much they can save?
Yeah, absolutely. So, one of the reasons that food waste is a tough nut to crack, is that many people waste food, but because they tend to do little and often, people tend not to think that they waste food. So, almost anybody that we speak to would say: “Oh, I don’t waste much,” and then when you interrogate it, you realise that accumulatively, over a month, people were actually wasting quite a bit, and that essentially means money in the bin.
So, Wrap, who’ve been, kind of, the foremost authority and research body on food waste in the UK, estimate that a family of four, with children, could save about £60 a month if they tackle their food waste, which is really really substantial over the course of the year- could add up to a nice holiday or something along those lines. So, yeah, even though, as I mentioned, many householders would say that they waste very little, or that they don’t waste at all, actually 70% of food waste that occurs in the UK at the post-farm gate stage, so once it’s kind of been delivered from the supplier, 70% of that food waste occurs at the household level. So, it’s a really significant problem.
Other than the Tesco project, which of your campaigns has made the most difference regarding food waste?
That’s a really good question. I suppose it depends on which angle you come at it from. In terms of actually stopping food from going in the bin, the Community Fridge Network is incredibly successful, it’s redistributed literally hundreds upon hundreds of tonnes of food every year. And it’s a community space where people who might be experiencing food insecurity or have a really strong environmental motivation for reducing waste and kind of consuming surplus; they’re community spaces where anybody can go and kind of pick up that food. So, in terms of tackling tangible waste, reducing the value of food that goes to waste, The Community Fridge Network has been a huge success.
Above images; Community Fridge installed by Hubbub. Tesco campaign to decrease waste at home by weighing waste and planning food. Delivering community surplus food in the ‘food connect’ campaign.
What do you think is the most important, or most effective way to reduce our domestic food waste? So, what advice would you give to our listeners?
That’s another good question. I do feel that there is a knowledge gap, when it comes to food waste, and there’s a really complex set of reasons for that, from lack of management available, domestic management of food in formal education, to the way food is often marketed with confusing ‘use by’ dates, versus ‘best before’ dates.
There’s still quite a knowledge gap around, you know, which is safe to eat. Those who work on food waste know the food generally is perfectly safe to eat after its best before, but a lot of householders are so very cautious around that. And also, just the way that we consume foods, like it’s very convenient and cheap for us generally to buy an abundance of very very fresh food, you know, you could bring home mangoes, lettuce, tomatoes, aubergines, carrots, from a single shop, for very little money; but then discovered that actually, you don’t really need a kilo of carrots for your household, or you haven’t really factored in that food to your week’s plans, and very often it’s that stuff that ends up going in the bin.
So, I think the key advice that I would give to a household is to plan before you shop.
When you sit down and actually work out what you want to eat in the week, it doesn’t take a huge amount of timing, and ultimately, it can really prevent you from going and just kind of filling your shopping basket or filling your shopping trolley with things that look nice, rather than what you actually need that week.
Or being seduced by those very appealing, buy one, get one off offers, or a discount on something.
So, if you make a list, and I mean really check that list, look in the fridge, look in the cupboards and see if you already have this stuff that you were thinking to buy and then go from there.
That can be a really great way of reducing your waste at home. And also, just, kind of, being tuned into the financial incentive around saving food waste. When we communicate to people that they, if they’re in a household with children, or a family with children, that they could save £60 a month, I mean it’s a really powerful incentive, to kind of, just try to tackle your waste and start using up your leftovers and eating what’s at home before you go shopping again. So, I think those are two key things; one is to plan, and then the other is to tune into the kind of benefits that you might get from tackling your waste.
And, if people are concerned about the environment, it is one of the single most impactful and immediate things that you can do to support the environment and reduce your impact, is to just eat the food that you buy, rather than throwing it in the bin.
That’s great advice, thank you. So, when this is going out, it will be coming up to Halloween. What is the Pumpkin Rescue Campaign, and how do people take part to save their pumpkin waste?
So, the Pumpkin Rescue Campaign is one of Hubbub’s very first campaigns, so it’s very dear to all of our hearts, and it’s a really simple campaign in a way, the core message is just to eat your pumpkin. So, I think in the UK, we kind of embraced Halloween 100%, apart from the part where you eat pumpkin around that time of year. We’re not so good at eating the pumpkin that we buy in the way that would occur, for example in the States, where people make lovely pumpkin pies at this time of year.
So, we’re essentially doing a bit of a call to action, to ask people that if they are carving their pumpkin, that they use the carvings, and the seeds, and a few other bits, and kind of eat those up, as they carve, and then once your pumpkin has been displayed, over a number of days (we wouldn’t be suggesting that people eat them after they’ve been sitting out carved for five days) but perhaps compost them at that stage. But pumpkins are a really interesting hook, I suppose, to speak about food waste because a lot of people don’t think of them as food, and it means that a lot of, you know, thousands upon thousands of pumpkins in the UK every year end up being carved and just popped in landfills, they’re not necessarily composted, and in a lot of cases, no part of the pumpkin that’s been carved, is eaten.
So yeah, unfortunately we won’t be able to do the usual ‘on the ground’ events that we normally run as part of the Pumpkin Rescue Campaign this year, it’s going to be digital, but if people keep an eye on our channels- we’re Hubbub. org.uk, and you’ll find us on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook as well. We’ll be doing loads of lovely tips for how to make delicious pumpkin curries, how to make sure that your seeds get eaten, pumpkin pies, and all the usual delicious stuff that people might be tuning into this year.
Fantastic, so our last big question; how do you think COVID-19 will affect or has already affected our waste? So, are people more interested in, you know, cutting down on their plastics? Or is it getting worse? What do you think?
Yeah, it’s a tricky one. So, on the food side of things, we did keep an eye out to see whether there would be a surge in food waste early in the lockdown, as there were kind of rumours about people panic buying more than they needed. But what we found, from some polling that we undertook in April, and that’s been substantiated by other agencies undertaking research since, it would seem that people became more cautious about food waste, rather than wasting more food.
Which is good news in any other context. So, yeah, we didn’t see any enormous surge in waste at the household level, obviously there was waste at the… more kind of industrial level, at hospitality level, early on- as retailers, or rather hospitality, found themselves with food that they wouldn’t be able to sell. And producers found that some kind of, some of the recipients would have not needed what they were expecting to sell to them. It’s a bit trickier when it comes to things like masks, gloves, etcetera. Obviously, there’s been a proliferation of use of single use masks, which are essentially, to an extent, a single use plastic. So, that’s really difficult and we’ve been doing some comms around making your own masks and using reusable mask safely. So, that’s obviously something that people can take on. Again, in terms of plastics, anecdotally we’ve seen that it does seem to have fallen down the agenda slightly, in terms of people’s sustainability concerns because in some cases, people are probably associating plastic with hygiene and perhaps aren’t as concerned about single-use plastic as they may have been before the pandemic began. So, ultimately, it’s a very, very mixed picture in terms of sustainability and COVID. It seems to have tuned people in to making more, making the most of their food, which is a good thing. What we have seen, as I say, a proliferation of the use of single use items out of safety concerns and hygiene concerns.
Great thank you for that. So, finally, where can people find out more about Hubbub and get involved?
So, the first place to have a look would be at hubbub.org.uk, which is our website, and that’s where you’ll find all the information about all the different campaigns I’ve spoken about and many, many more. And if people want to follow us on Twitter, then find us @hubbubUK and if you want to follow us on Instagram, we’re @hellohubbub.
Fantastic. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
My pleasure, thank you.