Food Waste Action Week 2024

What is some of the food that you waste the most? Is it the soggy spinach tucked away at the back of the fridge? Or the milk that’s turned sour? Or the bananas at the back of the cupboard now mushy with leopard spots?

New data shows that almost a third of the average rubbish bin in Northern Ireland is still made up of food, most of which could have been eaten. Throwing away food is an expensive habit. If households were to use up all the food that they buy, they could save up to £1,000 a year.

There’s a cost to the environment too. Food that isn’t eaten often ends up in landfill where it emits greenhouse gases and contributes to climate change. And think about all resources that go into producing food: the water, the transportation, and the energy. That’s all wasted when we throw food away.

Food waste can be an abstract thing, and it’s overwhelming too. With 1.2 million bananas going to waste every day in the UK, it’s hard to know where to start. That’s where Food Waste Action Week comes in, a campaign providing practical ideas for how to avoid throwing out food that we could eat. 

Food Waste Action Week is the UK’s largest behaviour change campaign, and this year it was held from the 18th to 24th March. This is the 4th year of the annual Food Waste Action Week campaign, and this year’s theme is “Choose what you’ll use”. 

“Choose what you’ll use” is about encouraging us to only buy what we need and to think about whether an item will go off before we get a chance to use it. The theme also encourages us to try to use as much of the item as possible. 

Do check out below the ongoing important work NIRN members are taking to reduce the food which is wasted in Northern Ireland and consider ways in which you can support.  

FareShare is the largest local food redistributor organisation in Northern Ireland. FareShare takes surplus food from right across the food industry and delivers it to charities and community groups, like school breakfast clubs and older people’s lunch clubs. Every week, the team provides enough food to create almost 40,000 meals for vulnerable people. 

Foyle Food Bank is part of a nationwide network of foodbanks, supported by the Trussell Trust. Foyle Food Bank provides nutritious emergency food and support to those living in crisis or hardship in the Derry/Londonderry area.

FareShare and Foyle Food Bank provide direct services to combat food poverty and hunger within specific areas and groups. The growing network of community fridges in Northern Ireland addresses a different need.

Although they often get confused, a community fridge is an entirely separate from a food bank. Community fridges are publicly accessible, and you don’t have to be referred to use it. Northern Ireland’s first community fridge was opened in 2017 by Cloughmills Community Action Team. The latest data shows that the Cloughmills community fridge diverts 1 tonne of food waste from landfill each month. 

Since 2017, community fridges have sprung up around the country, including Creggan Country Park which launched a community fridge and freezer as part of their “Creggan Connected” project in 2022, and the Playtrail in Derry.  

Larne Community Fridge is an example of how some of activity in community fridges leads into other positive zero-waste projects. Larne Community Fridge not only redistributes surplus food from supermarkets and producers, but also home-grown food from their allotment. The garden space, with its fruit bushes, vegetables and herbs, enables the local community to learn more about food growing. The garden also has a seed library for sharing seeds, and a Herbal Tea Bar where people can take home some herbs to infuse in boiled water.

Ballycastle Community Hub has also taken the concept of a community fridge one step further, by opening a café that uses a menu made up entirely of food that otherwise would have gone to waste. The café – one of the first of its kind in Northern Ireland – provides a space for people to learn recipes on how to get the best out of food and practical ideas for how to transform leftovers.

Perhaps, it is the social aspect of community fridges that has enabled them to really take off, and the network of community fridges in Northern Ireland is only projected to expand. East Belfast Mission are opening their new community fridge following Food Waste Action Week 2024.

Rather than letting food go stale, our members have brought a fresh energy to tackling food waste in Northern Ireland. You can hear them talk about their projects in the NIRN podcast, Sustainable Conversations. 

We would encourage all of you to support the work of our members, their projects and campaigns, and get involved in ongoing reducing food waste.

Head across to our podcast page to listen to FareshareNI, East Belfast Mission, Cloughmills Community Action, Ballycastle Community Hub and Larne Community Fridge.