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UK Chef's New TV Show Waging 'War on Waste'

Image credit: BBC One

The latest celebrity chef-led TV show is going beyond delicious meals to dish out hard truths about waste. Chef-turned-food-waste-activist Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall “is on a mission to reduce the amount of waste that Britain produces,” in the new BBC One series, "Hugh’s War on Waste."

The show primarily focuses on food waste, but other industries and waste streams are highlighted in the course of Fearnley-Whittingstall’s investigation. The UK wastes more food than any other European country; the show explains that one-third of food produced goes uneaten and that the average family in discards £700-worth (over US$1,000) of food a year.

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“It’s happening all over Britain,” Fearnley-Whittingstall says in the first episode, which aired November 2nd. “It’s not just wasting food, but all of the energy, resources and manpower that goes into producing it.”

With the knowledge that food waste is a problem from farm to fork, Fearnley-Whittingstall has talked to ordinary shoppers, farmers, supermarkets, a fast food company, dumpster divers, and charities. In the first episode, he learns about how cosmetic standards contribute to food waste. “Ugly produce” initiatives are helping combat the issue, but as Fearnley-Whittingstall discovers, much of the rejected vegetables “aren’t even wonky.” Many supermarkets have programs in place to reduce food waste, but there is a lot more work to be done.

He also works out that KFC UK throws away a million chickens a year in the UK and confronts them about it. As a result, the company’s Head of Health, Safety and Environment, Janet Cox, announced an ambitious plan to redistribute over half of all their leftover chicken by the end of next year.

Fearnley-Whittingstall admits that supermarkets and the fast food industry are only part of the problem; 50 percent of wasted food in the UK comes from the home. He confronts supermarket shoppers, armed with a large garbage bin, and “saves them the bother” of taking home the food they are statistically expected to throw away anyway.



He also pokes around in people’s bins and challenges them to reduce the amount they throw away. In the second episode, he arranges a recycling plant tour for ‘recycling skeptics’ to show them how the process works. The show claims that if everyone in Manchester were to “put stuff in the right bin,” it would save £25 million a year.

The gravity of clothing waste also becomes apparent in the episode.

"We're binning more than £150m worth of clothes every year in the UK, and they end up being incinerated or buried in landfill," Fearnley-Whittingstall says. “Chucking away clothes at this current rate is clearly an environmental disaster."

To challenge shoppers, he dumps seven tonnes of clothes in one of Britain’s largest shopping centers and asks for guesses on how long it takes for that amount to be thrown away. Guesses ranged from six hours to three days. Unfortunately, it takes just 10 minutes.

Luckily, there are efforts to combat this problem, as well, from various stakeholders throughout the textile value chain: UK waste-reduction charity Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) recently announced a three-year commitment to reducing clothing waste through the €3.6 million European Clothing Action Plan, which aims to divert over 90,000 tonnes per year of clothing waste from landfill and incineration across Europe by March 2019.

On the brand side, smaller companies are innovating to reduce waste in a number of ways: Holland’s Mud Jeans has pioneered a leasing model, where customers can return jeans after use — Mud then either upcycles them into a new pair or recycles the fabric; and UK apparel brand Rapanui has a clothing take-back program and released its first product made entirely from fabric waste earlier this year (Rapanui was also able to reduce its prices by 25 percent thanks to cost-savings from reducing waste in its vertically integrated supply chain). And larger-scale efforts including those from H&M, which has worked to close the loop for its textiles and just last week became the latest global partner of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to accelerate the transition to a circular economy.

Hannah Furlong is an Editorial Assistant for Sustainable Brands, based in Canada. She is researching the circular economy as a Master's student in Sustainability Management at the University of Waterloo and holds a Bachelor's in Environment and Business Co-op. Hannah… [Read more about Hannah Furlong]

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