Apr 24, 2019

Mountains of food waste – how one local café is making a difference

Words by Phoebe Purcell and Liz Smalley

10 million tonnes of food and drink is still wasted in the post-farm gate food chain each year in the UK. This has a value of over £20 billion every year and is associated with around 22 million tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHG). Of these 10 million tonnes, 60% could be avoided, and only 1.8 million tonnes is currently recycled.

As a nation, there’s no denying our food waste stats are pretty shocking. Whether you look at it from the perspective of consumers, farmers, food retailers or restaurants, most of us play our part in the futile food waste problem. This also means that each and every one of us, from consumers to suppliers, can do our bit to positively affect change. Waste reduction is paramount, but households and businesses must also recycle any food waste that does occur.

Meet Liz Smalley, founder of Common, a sustainable café in Clapham Common. Common is a unique environment where everything is plastic-free, the menu only offers sustainably sourced and palm oil free options and an organic zero-waste station offers customers the opportunity to grocery shop without single-use plastic.

First Mile Recycling Advisor Phoebe Purcell caught up with Liz on food recycling with First Mile and how it fits with running a sustainable café.


Did you have any reservations about recycling your food?

No reservations, it seemed the natural choice for me. I’ve always recycled from an early age, so I thought why not at my place of work! The reason I started recycling food was because I found it extremely painful throwing away food that was uneaten. I’m now more comfortable in the knowledge that I’m recycling food and I now know what is happening to the waste – turning into energy and the by-product can be used as fertiliser.

What made you decide to start recycling your food with First Mile?

I wanted to keep waste to a minimum. When I first opened the business, we found that we were making our sandwiches too big. Consequently, we started making the sandwiches smaller and reduced the price, which actually resulted in us increasing our sales as well as reducing our food. The ethos of my café is zero to waste, so waste is always on my mind.

In terms of working with First Mile, it’s extremely easy to use the service and having a collection every day makes it super easy for me and my colleagues. Each night we close up, we just leave the sacks outside the business and they are gone in the morning.

Is it now instinctive to use the food waste instead of the general waste bin?

Totally! What is great is that our general waste bin at the café is nearly nonexistent. We are recycling food, plastic, glass, and paper so there is really only a little bit of general waste left. That is why we currently only go through a sack of general waste a week! We are super proud of this. The majority of our food waste is coffee grounds – we make over 200 cups of coffee a week and even more on the weekend.

Do you have any tips for businesses who are thinking of recycling their food waste?

Make sure you have bins which are clearly labelled so everyone knows which bin to use. We make sure all new starters get training on the recycling process, and that everyone knows what can and can’t go in the food waste (and all the other streams). We also don’t have a bin for customer-use, so that means we are responsible for putting the waste in the correct bins. Keeping bins all in the same area, not dotted around the café means less contamination and helps keeps the area cleaner.

If you’re interested in recycling your food waste, you can order sacks today, and start turning your food waste into green energy tomorrow: https://thefirstmile.co.uk/service/food-recycling

Visit Common at 17 The Pavement, Clapham, London SW4 0HY

https://www.wearecommon.co.uk/

By Phoebe Purcell and Liz Smalley

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