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Environment and Energy


Food waste accounts for approximately 8% of total human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and, staggeringly, up to 35% of food in high-income countries is thrown out by consumers (Hawken, P. 2018.).

Here in Cambridge, Colleges and catering teams have to tread the difficult line between serving too much and too little to the hundreds of staff and students that come through their doors every day. Over at Clare Hall, the catering staff had become aware of a large amount of food going to waste at specific points in the week. Claire Clark, Catering Manager at Clare Hall explains:

‘As we don’t cater for specific numbers, we’ve always had a problem predicting what to produce. We already re-use and re-purpose what we can i.e. leftover bread to breadcrumbs, unused fresh vegetables into soup and vegetable scraps for gravy stocks, but our biggest waste though was perfectly good salad, cold meats, boiled eggs, pre-portioned desserts and fruit salad usually made fresh daily. These items were going straight into our food waste bin and we did this with very sad hearts!’

The answer to the problem came after meeting with the Graduate Student Body (GSB) Committee.

‘Clare Hall prides itself in high-quality, delicious meals but unfortunately both students and catering staff were noticing quite a lot of wastage’ says Emily Goodacre, Treasurer of the GSB Committee when discussions began. ‘The College doesn’t provide catering over the weekend because there’s just not the demand for it, this meant that food served on a Friday that wouldn’t last until Monday, was just getting thrown away. Both caterers, staff and students decided it was time for a change and that’s where the Leftover Food Initiative came in.’

Since its initiation by the committee, the Leftover Food Initiative has grown into a simple but effective scheme at Clare Hall. After almost a year of discussions and exploration of different alternatives including food banks, the initiative was successfully implemented in January this year. Now students who buy a meal at the Friday dinner can bring along their own containers and take leftovers home with them. It works on a first-come, first-served basis with those students who sign in for the meal at 6pm having first opportunity to go up for leftovers.

The scheme has been a hit with the catering team who have been at the forefront of making the change. According to Claire,

‘since implementing the food waste initiative we’ve reduced what we previously would have had to throw out. Our students have been very supportive and we put out all leftovers on the counter. Once the chefs have given the okay, all the students filter through with their own re-usable containers and take an extra portion of what they would like. It’s worked really well and we’ve had great feedback from them. If anyone has the same problem with food waste that we used to, we would highly recommend you try it!’.

The initiative has been so successful that the catering team has extended it to Wednesday lunches too; the College holds only one Formal Hall each week, with the transition from regular lunch to special dinner on Wednesday, representing another point at which food had previously been going to waste. For students, it’s been an opportunity to take home another nutritious, delicious serving whilst helping their College improve its environmental impact – a win-win!

The benefits of the scheme for one of Cambridge’s smallest Colleges have been far more than purely environmental. As Emily says,

‘different colleges have different dynamics but at Clare Hall we have a great working relationship with staff and the collaborative approach to this project has been great to be involved with. We’d sit down in people’s offices and kitchens and have a chat, everyone was open to listening to concerns and exploring ideas. It was really fun working to solve the problem together.’

Could your College implement something similar?

If so, Emily is happy to speak to others about lessons learned and how food waste is being collaboratively tackled at Clare Hall.

Others imperative to the success of the initiative but not mentioned directly in this article include: Mariana P.L. Pereira (GSB President 2018-2019), Simone de Rijk (GSB President 2019-2020) and Harry Joseph (Clare Hall Domestic Bursar). Thank you to all those working hard to continually improve and make a positive difference at Clare Hall.