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Insight note – How London’s circular economy innovators are helping to tackle food waste

Since 2017, ReLondon’s1 Business Transformation Programme has actively supported the growth of London-based innovators tackling food waste.
We have seen the rapid growth of a diversified ecosystem of circular economy start-ups and charities in the capital, with solutions across the value chain to prevent or recycle food waste, and redistribute valuable surplus that would otherwise have gone to waste. This ecosystem has already begun to deliver positive results in terms of reductions in food waste and associated greenhouse gas emissions for London.

Here we shine a light on the factors that have helped grow this diversified generation of food waste innovators in London, and what conditions we believe are still needed to mainstream these solutions and deal with the scale of the challenge.2
While action is already well underway to create the conditions for scaling these innovations, more could be achieved through their wider adoption by local authorities and food businesses. Looking to the future, we believe these circular food waste solutions offer great opportunities for London’s households and food businesses. Adopting them could help achieve waste and emissions reduction targets, while recovering lost economic value.

London’s sizable and diverse ecosystem of innovators tackling food waste is already redefining the capital’s food system for the better…

London’s ecosystem of circular economy start-ups and charities tackling food waste seems to have grown rapidly over the last 10 years.

Solutions are emerging across the entire value chain – for retailers, food businesses, and citizens – and offer a range of answers: whether that be preventing food waste from occurring in the first place, recycling it when it does happen, or redistributing valuable surplus that would otherwise have gone to waste.

This sizable and diverse ecosystem of innovators has made an impressive impact on food waste flows in London, with positive results cumulating year-on-year.

A number of factors have contributed to the building of this thriving and diverse ecosystem in London.

This offers an interesting blueprint for other cities around the world seeking to foster a similar community of innovators to tackle food waste.

…But to solve the scale of London’s problem, these innovations now need to expand beyond ‘early adopters’ to become the norm.

In 2021, the main food waste innovators collectively tackled just 1% of the total food loss and waste associated with London’s food system. For London to become a zero-waste city, where food waste is eliminated wherever possible and unavoidable food waste is recycled back into productive uses, these innovations need to mainstream.

Action is already underway to create the conditions for scaling these innovations.

We encourage local authorities and food businesses in London to engage with local food waste solutions and in doing so help meet the scale of the problem.

Adopting these food waste solutions is an opportunity to contribute to SDG 12.3 and the Mayor’s target to reduce food loss and waste by 50%; and meet emissions reduction ambitions, while at the same time recovering economic value.

ReLondon is on hand to help you make the most of these opportunities!
Here are two specific ways we are supporting food businesses and local authorities:

Apply for Circular Food Pioneer Project status
Receive formal recognition for implementing a circular food project! Recognised projects are promoted through ReLondon, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Mayor of London’s networks, receive strategic support and can use a certification stamp.

Check out the support offerings from ReLondon’s Business Transformation team
We provide expert, practical, one-on-one support and consultancy to forward thinking corporates and SMEs to develop circular business models that are resilient and fit-for-the-future.

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ReLondon would like to extend its thanks to colleagues from the following food waste businesses and charities for their insights, which informed this piece:

Oddbox: Oddbox is on a mission to fight food waste by rescuing the “too odd” or “too many” fruit & veg at risk of going to waste, and delivering it to people’s doorsteps in England and Wales.

OLIO: OLIO is a local community app that connects neighbours with each other to help them share more, care more and waste less.

The Felix Project: A food redistribution charity that believes in a vision of London where no-one goes hungry and good food is never wasted – rescuing surplus food and redistributing it for free to front-line charities, primary schools and holiday programmes.

Toast Ale: Craft beer brewed with surplus fresh bread that would otherwise be wasted.

Too Good to Go: A social impact company that fights food waste through its mobile app by connecting consumers with food business that have surplus food for sale.

Winnow: Winnow develops Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools to help chefs in large businesses like hotels, contract caterers, casinos and cruise ships to run more profitable, and sustainable kitchens by cutting food waste in half. 

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[1] ReLondon is a partnership of the Mayor of London and the London boroughs to improve waste and resource management and transform the city into a leading low carbon circular economy.

[2] This note draws on insights gleaned from interviews with the following London-based food waste SMEs and charities: OLIO, The Felix Project, Toast Ale, Too Good to Go and Winnow.

[3] ReLondon’s portfolio is not necessarily representative across industries or geographies, and as such, all trends should be interpreted as indicative rather than precise.

[4] Informed by DEFRA’s food and drink waste hierarchy, available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/food-and-drink-waste-hierarchy-deal-with-surplus-and-waste/food-and-drink-waste-hierarchy-deal-with-surplus-and-waste

[5] This map provides an indicative rather than precise depiction of London’s food waste innovation community.

[6] Data was collected from six of the main players in London’s food waste prevention and surplus redistribution ecosystem: OLIO, Oddbox, Toast Ale, Too Good To Go, Winnow and The Felix Project. As such, this figure is indicative rather than representative of the ecosystem’s impact.

[7] Conversion factors sourced from: ReLondon (2021) London’s food footprint: An analysis of material flows, consumption-based emissions, and levers for climate action, available at https://relondon.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/ReLondon_Londons_food_footprint_online.pdf. Energy Catapult Analysis via the Energy Saving Trust, available at: https://energysavingtrust.org.uk/significant-changes-are-coming-uk-heating-market/

[8]London and Partners and Dealroom.co (2022) 2021: the year London tech reached new heights, available at: https://dealroom.co/uploaded/2022/01/Dealroom-London-report-2022-Jan.pdf

[9] Data sourced from: ReLondon (2021) London’s food footprint: An analysis of material flows, consumption-based emissions, and levers for climate action, available at https://relondon.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/ReLondon_Londons_food_footprint_online.pdf

[10] Data was collected from five of the main players in London’s food waste prevention and surplus redistribution ecosystem: OLIO, Oddbox, Toast Ale, Too Good To Go, Winnow and The Felix Project. As such, this figure is indicative rather than representative of the ecosystem’s impact.

[11] Insights gleaned from interviews with the following London-based food waste SMEs and charities: OLIO, The Felix Project, Toast Ale, Too Good to Go and Winnow.

[12] Data sourced from: ReLondon (2021) London’s food footprint: An analysis of material flows, consumption-based emissions, and levers for climate action, available at https://relondon.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/ReLondon_Londons_food_footprint_online.pdf

[13] Emissions factor sourced from: ReLondon (2021) London’s food footprint: An analysis of material flows, consumption-based emissions, and levers for climate action, available at https://relondon.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/ReLondon_Londons_food_footprint_online.pdf

[14] Conversion factor sourced from: WRAP (2021) Food waste reduction roadmap, pg.9, available at: https://wrap.org.uk/sites/default/files/2021-09/WRAP-Food-Waste-Reduction-Roadmap-Progress-Report-2021.pdf. The factor used is based on an average of data collected from retailers and producers/manufacturers.

[15] Gate fee estimates were sourced from WRAP (2020) Comparing the costs of alternative waste treatment options, available at https://wrap.org.uk/sites/default/files/2021-01/Gate-Fees-Report-2019-20.pdf. We have estimated that 90% of waste that isn’t recycled or composted goes to EfW and 10% to landfill. In regards to the waste composition split between food waste and residual waste we have assumed a 37.5 to 62.5% split respectively, based on a waste composition analysis that was carried out for a London local authority. This may not reflect the waste composition of commercial waste.  

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