Wednesday, 5 June 2013

World Environment Day 2013: Vale of Glamorgan

UN World Environment Day (5 June) is marked globally on an ever-increasing scale. Today, the Vale of Glamorgan Council organized its first World Environment Day event at the Civic Offices in Barry. This year’s theme is food waste (“Think Eat Save”).

Councillor Rob Curtis (Cabinet Member for the Environment and Visible Services) welcomed attendees. He set the scene with some stark statistics. Around a third of all food grown is wasted, which is also a massive waste of the energy, water resources and land (especially through deforestation) used in producing food; while 1 in 7 of the world’s population goes hungry. Relatively little food waste occurred 40 years ago, but since then it has become a source of great social injustice and a terrible waste of limited resources. However, a change is now underway, and everyone can play their part in reducing food wastage.

Initiatives taken by the Welsh Assembly Government to address the issue were summarized by Jasper Roberts (Head of Waste and Resources Efficiency, Welsh Government). In recent years, 400,000 tonnes of food have been wasted in Wales annually. A Welsh Government Waste Strategy is now in place to reduce this figure. Instead of it going into costly and environmentally-polluting landfill sites, food waste is increasingly being channelled into recycling, composting and biogas-production schemes. The necessary infrastructure for collecting and processing food waste is being put in place, with the Welsh government favouring anaerobic digestion (AD) as the method to produce energy from food waste.

Clifford Parish (Operations Manager for Waste Management, Vale of Glamorgan Council) noted that all households in the Vale of Glamorgan now have kerbside collections of domestic food waste. This waste is taken to a site in Cowbridge for turning into compost. He noted that meeting high recycling targets was an initial step; reducing the amount of waste actually generated is the next goal. The Council is working with WRAP (Waste action and Resources Action Programme) to identify ways of doing this. WRAP campaigns to reduce waste by focusing on things like smart shopping, good storage, appropriate portion size, reduced packaging, reusable containers and staff training; it can draw upon its long experience of working with the hospitality industry and other food businesses.

John Homfray (Cowbridge Compost) told the story of how a bit of farm diversification led to a major food waste composting operation on the outskirts of Cowbridge. He took in some wood waste for money in 2004, bought a shredder and spread it on his fields. In 2006, the farm was processing the Vale of Glamorgan Council’s green (garden) waste kerbside collections; and by 2011 all the kitchen waste as well. It is planned to process waste with an AD plant by 2015, to produce biogas as well as compost. Green and food waste lorries from around the Vale arrive daily, increasingly joined by lorries from other parts of south Wales. The waste is processed (three tonnes of green waste to one of kitchen waste) by being moved every 4 days along a series of 8 bunkers, and it takes 60 days to mature. Anyone can come to the site and get compost for free (“you’ve already paid for it”), but if you’re collecting in a family car it is advised to keep the windows open!

Rob McGhee (Rural Regeneration Officer for Food) talked about how the Community Foodie initiative is helping communities grow their own food. One of the success stories is Nightingale Community Garden in Dinas Powys, which I have followed from initial planning stage to completion on this blog. One of the aims of Community Foodie is to help reconnect people with food, a big challenge when so much food is processed and too many children do not know how food is grown.

After a lively Q&A session and a break, Elen Jones (Fair Trade Wales) informed us of Fair Trade’s success in getting a fair deal for farmers of crops such as coffee and bananas. The growth in Fair Trade products has been due to consumer pressure. A number of major chocolate and coffee brands now use fair trade ingredients. Fair Trade schemes ensure better working conditions, greater environmental sustainability and a more transparent supply chain. Wales became the first Fair Trade Nation five years ago; around 50 towns and cities, 60% of its schools, and all its universities and colleges have signed up to the scheme. The next challenge is to extend Fair Trade cotton. Elen suggested a big step forward would be for all school uniforms in Wales to be made using Fair Trade cotton.

Anne Sharp (Knowledge and Strategy Manager, Energy Saving Trust) outlined some of the Trust’s behaviour-changing projects in Wales, aimed at reducing energy usage and food waste. The ‘Living Wise Cardiff’ project focussed on 1,000 residences in Rhiwbina, assessing attitudes to energy use before and after an education programme. The results suggested most people had changed their energy use behaviour as a result of the project. A key tool is the Water Energy Calculator, which anyone can use on the Energy Saving Trust’s website.

Craig Mitchell (Welsh Local Government) talked about the Welsh Government-funded Waste Awareness Wales campaign, with its Love Food Hate Waste slogan.  Fresh fruit and vegetables account for 40% by weight of food waste. Other commonly wasted foods are meat, fish, bread, rice and pasta. The campaign raised awareness about wasting perfectly good food, and the economic and environmental benefits of reducing waste.

In addition to the speakers, a number of Information stands proved popular. One stall was devoted to the Change 4 Life campaign. I have cooked all 14 meals in the campaign’s Supermeals recipe book, aiming to get people eating healthily on a low budget. They now have a newer booklet concerning packed lunches for children.

The plastic bag charge introduced by the Welsh Government was acknowledged by several speakers as a very positive step in reducing waste and environmental pollution.  Rob Curtis noted that plastic bags were now much less commonly picked up on Barry Island volunteer beach clean-up days.

Key themes that emerged were communication and education. In particular, campaigns such as those seen at this event should ensure a new generation in Wales do not have the wasteful habits of their parents. Whatever your age, however, it was clear there are many ways for everyone to become involved in changing the scandalous food waste situation.

It is hoped that World Environment Day will become an annual event for the Vale of Glamorgan Council.

Some links:

Nightingale Community Garden

Change 4 Life Supermeals Challenge

Cowbridge compost

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