Food waste will be next year's moral crisis, just as single-use plastic was this year

 
Elsa Bernadotte
A woman holds a bagel she found in a gar
Huge amounts of food go to waste every year (Source: Getty)

In these turbulent times, there was one villain who stood out in 2018. Plastered all over our TV screens, phones, and newspapers, this particular offender was everywhere. It is destructive, toxic, and impossible to get rid of.


I am of course talking about single-use plastic.

That said, the response to this growing threat has been inspiring. In 2018, we saw the public become much more discerning about how products are made, what effects they have on the planet, and why they’re being advertised specifically to “me”. This growth of ethical consumerism, combined with the dulcet, yet despairing, tones of Sir David Attenborough, made individuals come together to pressure big organisations into changing their plastic policy. It’s no wonder then that “single-use” was the Collins Dictionary Word of the Year.

But what will be 2019’s equivalent issue? Twelve months from now, as driverless vehicles carry us home for the holidays, and we read our Christmas lists written by artificial intelligence, what will be at the top of people’s moral consciences?

I believe the answer will be “food waste”. Here’s why.


A third of the world’s food is thrown away, according to UN data. The environmental and societal consequences of this are extremely damaging, and dealing with this amount of excess waste costs global economies dearly.

The extent to which we overproduce food is staggering, and it is only getting worse.

This can be seen on a personal level too. Overindulgence is everywhere, especially as we prepare for the festive season. A few spare pigs in blankets or rejected Brussels sprouts might not seem too unethical, but neither tend to be eaten after Christmas. It’s just the tip of the fatberg.

Having recognised the scale of the problem, the next question is how much attention food waste will receive in 2019. Promisingly, the business community is already showing the right signs of concern.

In the last couple of years, hundreds of millions of pounds have been invested into startups and infrastructure to combat food waste. Innovators are devising unique solutions to the issue, and with technological progress comes exponential improvement.

Crucially, this is coupled with big brands changing their tune. McDonalds banned plastic straws earlier in the year, while Tesco recently announced a joint commitment with the WWF to reduce food waste. My own startup is currently working with iconic London hotel, The Langham, to offer surplus afternoon teas at a discount to raise money for food-waste charity The Felix Project.

Initiatives such as these go a long way towards raising awareness and creating momentum. With the help of the business community, and a clear communication of how severe the problem is, by this time next year genuine change may have come about.

If those who fought against single-use plastic this year can muster the same enthusiasm when it comes to food waste, then the next twelve months could be very exciting. Fewer pitchforks and more dinner forks, and my Christmas 2019 will certainly come early.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.