“Nine Meals from Anarchy”

This famous phrase was coined by Lord Cameron of Dillington, the head of the UK Countryside Agency (1999). It refers to how close Britain is from collapsing after a shortage in the food chain.

Just as this statement is scary and worrying, also are the actual statistics around food waste. For example, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 32% of all the world’s food production is wasted (2009).

Check out this free report by the FAO, World Food Program and the International Fund for Agricultural development, on the State of Food Insecurity in the World_2014

This is a gargantuan number. One that not only gives a sense of economical loss but also one which has huge ethical implications as around 800 million people in the world go hungry, and almost half of the deaths in children under five are due to poor nutrition-3.1 million children each year. (9)

24% of the world’s food waste happens at production, an extra 24% during handling, storage and transportation, and finally a 35% at consumption. In the UK alone, we waste 7 million tones (including food and drink) which equates to around 60 pounds per month per household. (5)

Some of the reasons we mentioned are the production systems that need innovation and  better monitoring, the process of handling, transportation and storage, which calls as well needs to be reviewed and perhaps better low emission refrigeration systems need to be implemented; and finally the consumption stage. At this stage some of the reasons are that we cook and prepare too much food that then gets thrown away as we don’t consume it on time. Check out this graphic on measuring your food amounts better. As a designer myself this way of visualizing measures using everyday objects works great!

Another reason is a lack of information around how to better preserve food. See here a quick food conservation tips guide: Food conservation tips

Also, this NYT article  on reducing waste in your kitchen.

Another good way to avoid food waste is to be mindful of your shopping habits. It is estimated that people that shop using a list buy 40% less than people that just wander in the supermarket and check out the goods. (6)

My advice is to never go shopping hungry! The amount of times that I have come back home with ridiculous or unhealthy purchases is endless.

And I am sure you are all thinking about the elephant in the room of food waste: restaurants!

In the UK, restaurants produce around 600,000 tones of waste per year. (4) This is from customers’ unfinished plates, kitchen trimmings, spoiled food, or again, the issue of over production.

There are some really interesting initiatives that are looking to shift perspectives that have given rise to this rampant food waste problem.

One I’d like to talk about is The Bristol Skipchen, which aims to completely abolish wasting food that is perfectly good to eat. Their whole menu is made from ‘waste’ or ‘surplus’ food, and it is sourced from local supermarkets, farms, restaurants, catering events, and food banks.

These type of projects or ‘pay as you feel’ cafes raise a really important question about the usage of the word waste and challenge our assumptions around wholesome food consumption.

Another really interesting way to use the food waste that has gone beyond the best before date: Biochar.

Biochar International defines it as “a solid material obtained from the carbonization of biomass. Biochar may be added to soils with the intention to improve soil functions and to reduce emissions from biomass that would otherwise naturally degrade to greenhouse gasses. Biochar also has appreciable carbon sequestration value.”

Bio mass refers to any organic material.

One of the most hazardous gasses in landfill waste: Methane, comes from the natural decomposition of biomass, and of course also Carbon dioxide.

Biochar systems are carbon negative since they keep a big chunk of the carbon in the soil, reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, stimulating the growth of plants and ultimately consuming CO2. (1)

But what’s biochar: “… it’s organic matter that is burned slowly, with a restricted flow of oxygen, and then the fire is stopped when the material reaches the charcoal stage” (7)

Click here for a Step by step guide to making a Biochar processor

There are loads of resources at Biochar International, so go over there and checkout their website!

At DiSH creative we really believe in the power of small scale systems to tackle the most challenging issues around waste and incorporating sustainable practices in city spaces, so naturally, we love the whole urban agriculture movement.

These are often small urban farms and allotments that produce fresh, organic fruits and vegetables for sale. They are often places where people gather to learn more about how to grow their own food, provide green community spaces and purchase locally grown food. An interesting project was Food From the Sky, which although now closed it imprinted the possibility of urban farms into the imagination of Londoners.

Another example, the Vertical Veg. An enterprise started by Mark Ridsdill Smith, where he produced a huge amount of fresh vegetables and fruits using only his balcony and all the windowsill space in his flat! Almost as much as an average allotment (3, pg. 119)

P.S. I sketched out an urban system where food waste gets collected from local restaurants, gets processed at a local Biochar lab and then Biochar briquettes are sold back to restaurants to power their stoves (feel free to share your own versions of waste tackling urban systems with us!)

biochar local system


  1. Bio Char International


  1. Biomass Energy Centre


  1. Cockrall-King, Jennifer. Food and the City. Prometheus Books: New York. 2012. Print.
  2. Food waste in restaurants: out of home, out of mind?


  1. Love Food hate Waste


  1. Make Wealth History


  1. Mother Earth News


  1. Re: Char


  1. World Food Program



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