Tristram Stuart toasts the end of food waste

An appetite for reduction

From book-writing to beer-making, Tristram Stuart brings awareness to food waste in imaginative ways. This leading light in the global food waste movement shares his thoughts on how to tackle one of the biggest environmental challenges of our time.

Last week, Boston Consulting Group released a report predicting food waste would grow by a third by 2030. Their takeaway? Only a multi-pronged approach could reverse the trend: all hands on deck.

Tristram Stuart has long known this to be true. The English author and activist started publicly campaigning on food waste as a lone pioneer in 2002. Since then, he has published Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal (2009) and won the international environmental award, The Sophie Prize, in 2011. Stuart is an official UN Champion for the Sustainable Development Goal to halve food waste by 2030.

What first alerted you to food waste?

When I was fifteen, I was living with my father on a small farm in East Sussex and started rearing pigs. Feeding them became costly, so I started collecting scraps from my local school kitchen as well as surplus food from local street markets. I realized a large amount of food was being wasted at every level of the food system: from farmers to consumers (and all points in between) and that this food was still perfectly good for human consumption. It was time to act.

How big a problem is it?

It’s huge. Billions of dollars’ worth of food is being wasted. Not only that, our food production system has by far the biggest impact on the environment. While nearly one billion people in the world are left hungry, a third of all the food produced is being wasted – it’s a scandal.

For me, it’s a symptom of a system that’s designed to make a profit, not to feed people. The idea that we need to double production to feed our growing population is nonsense; by tackling waste, we can increase the amount of food that goes to people and reduce the impact food production has on the environment – it’s a no-brainer.

“A third of all food produced is wasted – it’s a scandal”

- Tristram Stuart, Food Waste Campaigner

What are the solutions?

There is no magic bullet; it’s a multi-faceted, systemic problem that requires action on many levels. It requires coordinated action across the entire chain, which is why it’s heartening to see organizations at many levels beginning to cooperate more closely through initiatives such as Champions 12.3.

What are the main challenges you have faced in trying to tackle the issue?

At the outset, our main challenge was awareness, not only of the issue but of the causes and consequences. Many players in the system were in denial about their role in it too. That has changed to an extent, but we still have a long way to go. While the Sustainable Development Goal of halving food waste by 2030 is much better known now than it was before, there’s less clarity around how that will be achieved and what we need to do once we reach that goal.

Toast Ale: Unsold bread is the starting point for this craft beer.

How have you overcome those challenges?

I’ve done a lot of campaigning. I organized the 2009 Feeding the 5000 event, which served 5,000 people with food that would have otherwise been wasted. I also set up Feedback the same year, which now works with other groups, businesses and governments around the world to find solutions to food waste. In the course of raising awareness, I’ve also helped entrepreneurs seize opportunities to turn waste into valuable resources or business ideas.

As a consequence of that, I launched Toast Ale, a company that brews award-winning craft beer using unsold fresh bread that would otherwise have been wasted. In just over two years, Toast is being produced in six countries including the UK, the US, Iceland and South Africa. It raises awareness about the global food crisis and tackles food waste at the same time.

“The day there’s no more bread waste, we can say mission complete”

- Tristram Stuart, Food Waste Campaigner

What are you planning to do next?

We have recently closed a round of investments for Toast based on ‘equity for good,’ which pledges that net capital gains are to be reinvested in social businesses or charities. We have ambitious plans for Toast’s international expansion and there’s a queue of dozens of new countries waiting to join the Toast family in the coming eighteen months.

Our ambition is to save more than one hundred tons of bread from being wasted within three years. Unless our concept is scaled properly, we’re never going to be satisfied. The day there’s no more bread waste to be brewed, we can shut up shop and say mission complete. Not many businesses count working themselves out of existence as a successful model – but we’re committed to eradicating the problem.

I believe if you want to change the world, you must throw a better party than the people who are destroying it. So, why shouldn’t we all raise a glass to ending food waste?