Sheffield food saving organisation stops 500 tonnes going to landfill - enough to make one million meals

Milan has just won a £1m prize from Prince William for saving food - but a small Sheffield organisation does more.

By David Walsh
Wednesday, 20th October 2021, 3:26 pm

The Italian city won an Earthshot prize in the ‘Build a Waste-Free World’ category after it saved 390 tonnes of food from landfill in the last 12 months.

But Food Works in Sheffield saved 500 tonnes in the same period, the equivalent of one million meals, according to director and founder Jo Hercberg.

Milan made participation compulsory for public agencies, food banks, charities, universities and private businesses.

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Jo Hercberg at Food Works in Handsworth. Picture: Chris Etchells

Food Works relies on three vans, 14 staff and an army of 300 volunteers.

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Prince William’s new contest has just paid out five £1m prizes to ‘Earthshots’ – simple but ambitious goals which, if achieved by 2030, will ‘improve life for us all, for generations to come’.

Ms Hercberg, said: “We’ve proven what’s possible even without city-wide support. Can you imagine what we could if we had it - and £1m? We could have food hubs all around the city.”

The Food Works team at the Handsworth warehouse.

Globally, it is estimated up to 40 per cent of food is wasted, consuming resources to grow and to dispose of, while millions go hungry.

Food Works was established in 2015 and today has three sites in Sheffield, including headquarters in Handsworth, and eight ‘hubs’ mostly in the north east of the city.

Jo said they were ‘open to discussions’ with city leaders about expanding. Demand is expected to grow due to the economic situation, she added.

“The city council is a lot more aware of what we do. The penny dropped during the pandemic and doors are starting to open. When the authority declared a climate emergency, food wasn’t mentioned. That’s been amended. Things are changing, but it’s not over night.

Jo Hercberg and Ash Cooke. Picture: Chris Etchells

“There is so much food in the system wasted. If everyone had the mindset of feeding humans first we could be on to a winner.”

Domestic food waste collections will be mandatory for councils from 2023, she added.

The City of Milan’s three Food Waste Hubs were launched in 2019 with the aim of halving waste by 2030. They recover food, mainly from supermarkets and company canteens, and give it to organisations which distribute it to the neediest citizens.

Food Works collects from 30 locations, mostly supermarkets and wholesalers, but also small shops and local growers. It also has a farm at Manor Oaks which grew 800kg of food this year - equivalent to 1,600 meals, Jo said.

Any waste goes to ReFood anaerobic digestion firm in Doncaster, or Heeley City Farm for composting.

And anything that can’t be used goes in Food Works’ ‘tiny wheelie bin’, she added.

The not-for-profit organisation is primarily funded by people who make a donation for food. Frozen meals start at £1 minimum but customers can pay more.

Rene Meijer, chief executive, said customers were from all backgrounds.

He added: “We do not work with referrals or criteria. We try and make our food as accessible as we can and feed anyone who comes through our doors.

“This does mean that a lot of people that have limited financial means access our food. But we do not have clients, we only have customers and we just ask that each one contributes according to their means, whatever they may be.

“The aim is to create an offer that makes people feel they are treated with respect and that doesn't put them outside of 'regular' society to grovel for handouts.”

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