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Zero Heroes - London’s Zero Food Waste Heroes

Waste has an image problem. For many there’s a perception that it’s not in vogue, not as important or ‘sexy’ an environmental issue as climate change or water shortages. Yet agriculture is the world’s largest consumer of water, and the food miles required to transport food around the world contributes to climate change, which in turn disproportionately affects the poorest people in the world. Reduce food waste and you’re dealing with a multitude of environmental and moral injustices. I met with Chris Wilkie from London Citizens Greener Planet Action Team, to find out what they’re doing about all the food waste in London.   
Chris, can you tell us a bit about London Citizens, and the Greener Planet Action Team?
London Citizens is a charity with a large membership of faith groups, universities, schools, trades unions and other community organisations, working together on a wide range of important social issues across the Capital.  In the couple of years I have been working with them I have seen amazing progress on issues including the London Living Wage, affordable housing, engaging communities in tackling street crime and immigration/asylum issues. London Citizens is not affiliated to any political party, so it can work independently with no political influence. Issues to be tackled are chosen democratically by the members. 

The Greener Planet Action Team (GPAT) is a group within London Citizens, formed almost three years ago to tackle environmental issues across London. In May 2008 we held an event called London’s Green Future at Imperial College, featuring guest speakers and workshops with experts such as London’s Green MEP, Jean Lambert, and the environmental broadcaster Mark Dowd. In January 2009, together with Transport for London and the major newspaper publishers, we launched a publicity campaign on tube trains, in stations and on buses, encouraging people to recycle the free newspapers they picked up each day. Throughout 2009 we delivered a series of environmental training workshops for our member organisations. Last November we held a screening of the film “The Age of Stupid” followed by a discussion on which major issue to tackle in 2010. We decided that the problem of food waste was an area where we could make a real difference in our communities.  This is how Plan Zheroes was born.

So what is Plan Zheroes and what does it aim to achieve?
Plan Zheroes is the name we have given to our food waste project.  The aim is to prevent good food from becoming waste, ideally creating zero waste. Those achieving this would be promoted as “zero heroes”, hence Zheroes! 

We want to create links between food donators (e.g. supermarkets, restaurants, schools etc,) and people who really need the food. Our aim is to inspire as many businesses as possible to help us solve this environmental and social issue.

Why do you think supermarkets, restaurants, schools or other businesses will want to be a part of Plan Zheroes? Will it help them to save money?
They will want to participate because they all recognise the problem of food waste, they aspire to be more environmentally and socially proactive and we will help them celebrate and publicise their successes. I think it is too early to say whether it will help the supermarkets save money but those who receive the food will certainly make savings.

Where will the food be directed and who will benefit most?
The idea is to redirect the food to organisations who help people on low incomes, the homeless, perhaps the elderly – in fact anyone who can benefit from it.  We know that many families and individuals are struggling financially and cannot afford to eat properly every day. For example, we heard of one family which can only afford to give one member a hot meal each day, so they have to take it in turns. This is a really unacceptable situation when so much food is simply thrown away each day in London. The Greener Planet Action team is determined to help do something about it.

Which other organisations are you consulting for advice and support for Plan Zheroes?
We have already had discussions with The Green Alliance, Waste Watch, The Soil Association, FareShare, and Ealing Friends of the Earth. We will work together with these and other organisations as the project develops. Our aim is not to reinvent the wheel where good work has already begun but to add the considerable influence and power of London Citizens.  

What are the timescales for Plan Zheroes to start taking shape?
We began the project in January this year and are currently gathering evidence about good and bad practice in food waste management, piloting surveys initially in West London.  We anticipate this will take until May, at which point we will assess the success of the pilot and modify the surveys if required.  After May we will use volunteers from our member organisations across London to continue gathering data and begin matching donators of food with organisations who can redirect it to those who need it. I would like to see some tangible results, i.e. systems in place where food is being donated and used, by this summer.

And finally, if readers want to know more, support or get involved, where can they find out more information, and who should they contact?
Further information will be available on the London Citizens’ website - Anyone interested can contact me by email at or on 07985 306 832 if they would like to find out more or help us with this very important work. The more volunteers we have, the bigger impact we will make! Thanks, Atul, for giving us the opportunity to publicise Plan Zheroes.  

Atul Srivastava
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