This blog discusses a number of food waste-related initiatives within the University of Sheffield, demonstrating how they are not only reducing, but transforming ‘food waste’ into so much more. It features: Well-Being Café; Save our Sandwiches; and two Green Impact teams’ plans for this year.

Well-Being Café (WBC)

WBC is a student-run initiative, that provides a ‘pay as you feel’ cooked vegan meal every Monday at 6pm in the Students’ Union. Each week, they feed around 100 visitors with a meal consisting of ingredients predominately sourced from ‘The Real Junk Food Project’ (TRJFP). This not-for-profit, volunteer organisation collects surplus food from food retailers in Sheffield, saving it from becoming ‘food waste’, and redistributes it to organisations or individuals wanting to use it, for a fee much lower than the original retail price.

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Delicious vegan Shepard’s pie & Katsu curry with sides & dessert at WBC! The colouring was very therapeutic & I even made a new friend!

Alongside the meal, students can engage in a number of activities designed to improve well-being, such as colouring, mini games, mindfulness books and conversation starters to encourage social interaction. WBC’s main motivations are tackling mental health issues and social isolation (both common amongst student populations) alongside introducing students to healthy, vegan home-cooked food.

Through TRJFP, they utilise would-be-waste to achieve these goals and in turn, reduce food waste. WBC’s committee said: “Food brings people together and they probably wouldn’t engage with it [WBC] without it.” This application of surplus food as a tool for encouraging engagement with a service is used regularly by organisations like charities, as discussed in the findings of this study.

Without TRJFP and the surplus food they provide, WBC would need to purchase more food from the shops (estimated to cost around twice the current weekly payment to TRJFP), which may mean raising the price of the suggested donation or enforcing a set price, which could create a barrier and reduce participation.

As a result of these facilitative and cost-reducing qualities, this food waste has been ascribed a new value, a concept often discussed in food waste discourse, as in the study above.

Visit WBC’s Facebook Page to see their upcoming events.

Save our Sandwiches (SOS)

SOS is a student-run society of volunteers who collect food surplus from 9 different university outlets, 19 times a week, and do 5 ‘drops’ a week to the 2 organisations they redistribute the food to: Salvation Army and Ben’s Centre, the latter of which “relies on SOS for their weekly outreach service to vulnerable people”. They often get extra call-outs to rescue items from University catered events like meetings and conferences. This year, their weekly average of items saved has been 250, though last week they saved 440 items! SOS collect any food as long as it’s in date and fit for human consumption. They have a weekly social, ‘Day Zero’, where volunteers collect all the leftover food and deliver it to Salvation Army together.

Below are pictures of the food that myself and other SOS volunteers saved from becoming waste in only 2 days, which will all go to help feed homeless people.

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On speaking to the Chair of SOS, she highlighted how they have transformed the concept of ‘food waste’ into something much more valuable.

“Aside from the obvious achievement of saving tens of thousands of items of food waste, we’ve managed to bring together like-minded people who share a common passion for targeting the issues of food poverty, food waste and homelessness… We’ve made really great relationships both with each other, in the wider community and with the staff also. SOS is a really important project to the SU and the University.”

Some SOS volunteers have even gone onto volunteer with the charities they support during their vacation time; this initiative has clearly stimulated community activism in students.

If you’d like to help save food too, check out SOS’s Facebook page.

The inspiration doesn’t end with the students. The staff are also getting involved…

Green Impact (GI) Teams

The Geography department team, along with other ‘food waste’ reducing initiatives, have begun utilising TRJFP (like WBC) for catering their events. This year will be the first time they have TRJFP cater for their annual Staff and PhD Students’ Christmas Dinner. They also run an Environmental Science and Physical Geography summer school for sixth-form students which they had TRJFP cater for an entire week – including a BBQ! This makes their events more sustainable and prevents food waste.

The UK/EU Recruitment and Outreach GI team are running a food drive-type initiative, encouraging staff in the Arts Tower to donate their unwanted canned foods, that is still in date and therefore can be used by food banks. They are filling up window sills in the tower with collected tins and once a window is full they can put up a letter, which will eventually form a message for students and the public to notice. Keep your eyes peeled around the Arts Tower to see the final message! Their team leader described how this has brought together staff working on all levels of the tower who previously didn’t engage much with each other – including Recruitment and Outreach, Widening Participation and Global Engagement teams. They also plan to introduce a ‘feed your colleague’ initiative, where if they make excess for dinner, if they can’t freeze it, rather than throwing it away, they bring it into work for a colleague to enjoy.

To keep up to date with Green Impact’s work, check out their website.

All these initiatives intercept food surplus before it becomes ‘food waste’. We have seen it transformed and revalued by being utilised to: tackle mental health/loneliness; create communities; inspire activism; feed those without food and increase event sustainability. But most of all, we have seen a recurrent theme of ‘food waste’ having the capability to bring people together in many different ways.

How is your University transforming food waste? Please comment below!

A special thanks to everyone who gave their time for me to interview them about their amazing projects.