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Lindsay Boswell is CEO of FareShare. FareShare is the UK’s biggest charity fighting hunger and food waste. It takes fresh, good-to-eat food that can’t be sold in shops, either because of packaging errors, short shelf life or overproduction and redistributes that food through a network of 11,000 charities across the UK. These organisations then turn this nutritious food into meals for vulnerable families and individuals, many of whom are struggling with unemployment, low income, debt, homelessness, family break-up, dependency or other issues. During the pandemic, FareShare more than doubled its work, providing the equivalent of 132 million meals between April 2020 and March 2021 – that’s 4 meals every second.
One business success
- The last year was both a challenging and momentous one for FareShare. We faced unprecedented demand for redistributed food and were asked to deliver two multi-million-pound emergency government grants, to help get food to those most in need. Our staff and volunteers worked flat out on the front line throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Half of the 11,000 charities and community groups FareShare supports are in the UK’s most deprived areas, and they provide vital wrap-around care in their local communities. Getting a good meal is an enormous incentive for people to visit a local charity. Each meal could mean one less trip to the GP for an isolated older person, another family signposted to a source of support or a chance for someone struggling with addiction to seek help. FareShare makes a difference to millions of UK citizens. What motivates our extraordinary team to go above and beyond, is making a positive impact on someone’s life. We have done this every working day for the past 27 years. But 2020 has proved to be something else. As a result of everyone’s herculean efforts over the pandemic, 1 in 3 people now recognises the FareShare brand.
Two challenges for the sector
- FareShare had to overhaul its entire redistribution system to meet the unprecedented demand for food at the start of the pandemic. Before the first lockdown, just one in ten of the charities we support were operating as food banks or pantries. That changed to nearly one in two, coupled with a much greater need for longer-lasting ambient food, for example, tins and packets.
- But just as society opens up, the entire food industry is now facing a new challenge – a shortage of HGV drivers and haulage capacity in the UK. As a result, a third of the food we would normally receive is currently not getting to our warehouses. We are working hard to final alternative solutions, to make sure food gets to those who need it most. And FareShare is leading the way in tackling a long-term challenge to redistributing waste food– the fact that it is often cheaper to let unsold food rot in the ground or go for animal feed, rather than get it to people. More than a third of our food now comes through our pioneering Surplus with Purpose scheme, which works with small-scale farmers, growers and suppliers to help with the costs involved.
Three forecasts for the sector
- Despite FareShare’s efforts, a staggering two million tonnes of good-to-eat food is still wasted across the food industry each year. Food waste is a huge contributor to global warming. It accounts for at least 8% of total global greenhouse gas emissions -- around three times pre-Covid levels of emissions from the aviation industry.
- With COP26 taking place in Glasgow, this year presents a perfect opportunity for the UK to take a global lead on the issue of tackling food waste, especially when you consider that our neighbour, France, currently redistributes six times the amount of waste food we do here.
- Our Surplus with Purpose scheme is already being supported by some supermarkets, as an example of best practice. And we believe the time is now right for the government and industry to work in partnership to lead the way and stop much more of that good-to-eat food from being wasted. Many families in the UK are likely to still be facing economic uncertainty this autumn, with, for example, the end of the furlough scheme, and the charities we support expect demand for redistributed food to remain high throughout this year.