Food waste comes in many different forms; with some examples occurring much closer to every home. Many of us overlook the impact of food waste but those unused bags of lettuce, unwanted slices of bread and discarded oranges can cost the average household up to £600 a year. Nationally the UK throws away 7 million tonnes of food waste each year…food that can either be eaten or waste that can be easily avoided. If you’re used to managing your unavoidable food waste – the scraps and peelings – and you carefully avoided creating any unnecessary excess, it comes as a surprise to move to an area that doesn’t offer food waste collections as part of the local household waste collections. This is exactly what happened when PFWP Chair,

Penny Tarrant, moved from Surrey to Plymouth in 2013/14. By the end of 2014 she had created the Plymouth Food Waste Partnership and signed up over 20 local partner organisations with the sole aim of introducing a household food waste collection in Plymouth. Gaining funding from Awards for All, she and the PFWP partners conducted a Feasibility Study in 2015/16 that began the process of persuading Plymouth City Council to view food waste collections in a different light. PFWP’s research is continuing and the successful partnership is now an established member of both Environment Plymouth and Food Plymouth and is actively addressing the many and varied elements of food waste reduction in the city.

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Food waste can be a complex issue and yet it is a challenge shared by almost every household in the United Kingdom. Across the UK almost a third of local authorities operate a domestic food waste collection as part of the waste management service. In Devon only Plymouth and Exeter miss out on such a service but, by 2017, Exeter City Council was actively researching the likelihood of a domestic collection…leaving Plymouth as the only local authority without a domestic collection.

PFWP’s 2016 Feasibility Study aimed to:
• Review the reasons for and against a food waste collection given by the City Council.
• Establish the understanding required to persuade local residents, including the city’s students, to participate.
• Assess the actions taken by other local authorities in terms of justifying a collection and
• Support and develop a number of pilot projects intended to ‘test’ the assumptions made about the cost effectiveness of a collection and the willingness of different local populations to participate.

It soon became clear that the dynamic and complex world of food waste management, and its role in determining broader environmental change, would require a much more in depth study and that the process of influencing Council policies on the issue would take much longer. In this respect PFWP’s research reflects the challenges faced by many seeking to ensure the adoption of more sustainable and long term benefits from a community perspective. Many similar projects are unfunded, led by volunteers and based on a desire for change. They often require expert support in terms of background knowledge, an understanding of the key drivers for decision making – including financial barriers and the limitations of policy development – and, in almost every case, an appreciation of the benefits of partnership working. Such projects also benefit from a clear, willing and accurate exchange of information…..a process that can define or limit progress if mutual aims are not fully understood.

In less than a year the boundaries of PFWP’s Feasibility Study were reviewed twice to address changes that prompted further consideration of the arguments being put forward by the Council. These included the potential of changes in both policy and legislation at a national and international level as the Government initiated a formal Inquiry in to food waste management and the UK chose to withdraw from the EU and its influential food waste policies. Other broader concerns included the significance of Plymouth’s reputation as a ‘green city’ and the significance of this to broader citywide interests in low carbon economies, corporate social responsibilities, the value of evidence from other local authorities and the potential impact of negative press coverage in the run up to the internationally significant Mayflower 400 celebrations.

The Council were also considering budget cuts and, as a result, chose to introduce fortnightly collections of both general waste and recyclables – a decision that called in to question the value of food waste in terms of the contract held with the new Waste to Energy plant at Devonport in terms of both tonnage and calorific value and the potential cost-effectiveness of a household food waste collection in terms of the infrastructure required for its introduction.

Given the increasing complexity of the Study PFWP were able to address the role of food waste in the ‘bigger picture’ of environmental change in the UK and the background to a potential food waste collection in Plymouth by considering the arguments made and the solutions that might be applied. It included an assessment of the possible costs and cost effectiveness of introduction, despite a distinct lack of clear evidence from the Council, and a review of how other local authorities justified their services. The project created a specifically design Education Programme which is ripe for development and use across the city and the potential for a number of ongoing pilot projects including a review of how food waste collections might benefit student accommodation across the city.

PFWP were able to complete their Feasibility Study in early 2017 – having gained Discovery Community status for Plymouth with Sainsbury’s national ‘Waste Less, Save More’ initiative and, at the time of writing, the Partnership was discussing future mutually beneficial work with Food Plymouth’s Silver Sustainable Food City plan and working with Business Management students at the University to develop options for student accommodation.

PFWP remains an ongoing example of a successful, dynamic and partnership-led sustainability project driven by a simple aim – the introduction of a household food waste collection for Plymouth’s residents.

Contact Info

  • Devonport Guildhall, Ker St, Plymouth PL1 4EL

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Funded by the National Lottery through the Big Lottery Fund

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