Love Food Hate Waste Part One – Think Globally, Act Croydon

By - Tuesday 5th February, 2013

In this first part of a series, Liz Sheppard-Jones notes some startling news about the state of recycling in Croydon

Hopefully your breakfast looks better – Photograph by Nick Saltmarsh Licenced under Creative Commons

Croydon has received some extremely good news. We waited a long time, we made a lot of effort, powerful forces weighed in to make it happen – basically, we’d earned it. But the big announcement still came as a surprise. It’s not often that we have cause to congratulate ourselves on such an excellent outcome or that we can produce statistics that compare so well with what’s happening nationally. As a result, we can all look forward to a better future.

Yes – Croydon now recycles 45% of all its domestic waste.

It’s a terrifically good news story for us – even more so as nationally and internationally, the picture is terrible.  Waste of all kinds, and food waste in particular, is one of those slow-burn crisis issues which hover at the back of our collective consciousness and occasionally seize a moment centre stage. The latest seizure happened in mid-January 2013, when amidst a looming triple dip recession, crisis in Mali, and the usual infrastructure collapse brought about by snow, we learned the following:

Think Globally, Act Croydon

Food waste is very definitely, then, a bad news story – so big and so bad that it’s hard to know where or how to begin to address it. It appears, however, that we have taken as our mantra: Think Globally, Act Croydon. That’s where our good news story emerges.

Seven years ago, the amount of domestic waste (all of it, not just food) recycled across the borough was 15%. In 2012/13 that figure is 45% – an impressive three-fold increase. Croydon Council’s actions – introducing blue and green recycling bins, starting to recycle plastics, and in particular rolling out domestic food waste recycling in October 2011 – have shown impressive results. In the last sixteen months alone, the percentage of domestic waste recycling in the borough has risen from 32% to its present level.

The appliance of science – so what happens to Croydon’s recycled food waste?

The phrase that pays is Autothermal Thermophilic Aerobic Digestion. Croydon’s food waste is sent to Mitcham, to a plant run by the Vertal company. There it is macerated (processed) and placed in cylindrical containers into which oxygen is pumped. This stimulates microbes to become active – a bit like the processes involved in composting.

The final products are both solid and liquid. Solids go into the manufacture of fertiliser and liquids into crop-spray. Hence the products of food waste are used to improve the efficiency of future food production – a double saving of money.

WRAP it up

Joanna Dixon, Croydon’s Community Recycling Officer, is proud of these achievements and of the part Croydon is playing to improve such a poor national and international situation. In November 2012 she successfully applied for funding from WRAP (the Waste Resources Action Programme), an independent not-for-profit company set up in 2000 to work with retail, agriculture, the food industry and local authorities. WRAP awarded Croydon £10,000, to be spent by March 2013, to fund our participation in the Love Food Hate Waste campaign.

The campaign is now up and running and will reach its climax on Valentine’s Day with a day of community action (which arguably demonstrates a more solid and dependable form of love than the day’s extravagant hearts-and-flowers avowals) in Surrey Street market.

Winning ways

So what has been done and why has it worked? Love Food Hate Waste gives advice about cooking and purchasing, recommending small but highly cost-effective behaviour changes such as the use of shopping lists, accurate estimation of the portion size of uncooked foods, and correct storage of leftovers. It also seeks to tackle the key issues of cooking skills, which have fallen disturbingly in the general population over the last 30 years. Croydon now offers council-run cookery classes, promoted by community groups, the Samaritans, and local church networks.

Joanna Dixon is focussed on a target of recycling 50% of all Croydon’s domestic waste. She’s also direct about the challenges she faces.  Reaching all sections of the community is one – with over 200 languages spoken and some groups more insular than others, behavioural change messages are not always easily disseminated. People’s sheer busy-ness is another. Anything that adds additional tasks to the daily routine of those already stretched – and stressed – to the limit is difficult for many to take on board. Careful thought has been given to how to make such change easier, focussing on the key message of saving households money.

Next time, ‘A Cold Wind Blowing’ – What role does business play in all of this, and what can YOU do to get involved?

Can’t wait? Visit Love Food Hate Waste’s campaign website to learn more!

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • Brendan Walsh

    Think Globally, Act Croydonally. C’mon, we were all thinking it!

    Thanks for the updated figures. Do you have a link to the latest London borough-wide recycling rates?

    One has to appluad the Love Food Hate Waste campaign. I hope it is a success on Valentines day.

    However, the other stats quoted are enough to make anyone’s blood boil. For the sake of example….

    Lord David Sainsbury, the former Chairman of the supermarket and member of the House of Lords, is Labour’s largest individual donor. His cousin. Lord John Sainsbury, the president of the said supermarket, also sits in the House of Lords as a Tory Party member. Now, if these guys (and their counterparts in Tesco and Asda etc.) want to ditch 30% of the food being produced in this country, because it doesn’t look good, who is going to stop them? Not somebody on the payroll, I would suggest.

    Hopefully, and hopefully soon, we will look back at “the bad old days” of when recycling was only 45%. The potential, and need, is so much greater in a finite planet. Recycling offers the opportunity for employment as is takes a lot of work to get it done. The suggestion of burning our waste resources looks increasingly shameful.

    Still, looking forward to rest of this feature.

  • Anne Giles


  • Andrew Dickinson

    Excellent article Liz. I would like to see the products made available to the boroughs allotments and used on the gardens in the parks for soil improvement in a similar way that green waste become ‘Croypost’. Just imagine ‘Croydon in Bloom’ with plants and flowers nourished by our own food waste.Real closed loop recycling.


    45% is a great achievement – yay!
    Let’s get to 50% and above.

    As often is the case, education is the key. Teach our youngsters how to cook
    AND ALSO how to use leftovers, as well as how to judge (by smell and taste) if
    food in unopened packages with use-by dates that have passed is still ok to
    eat. Dried food, tinned and frozen will all be fine if a bit past the use-by
    date – people just need to know how to check and make sure.

    Now that I can easily recycle so much household waste (thanks Croydon Council),
    the contents of my bin consist mostly of plastic packaging – bread wrappers,
    cereal packet inners and similar. For those who are keen, there is a company
    called Polyprint Mailing Films in Norwich which accepts plastic wrappers (the
    stretchy kind, not the crinkly ones) and recycles them. The down side is that
    you’ll have to post your plastics to them but it’s less than £3 for a kilo, and
    it takes a very big bag of plastic wrappers to weigh one kilo…… go on,
    Google them.

  • Liz Sheppard-Jones

    Thanks for your responses.

    I did search for comparisons with other boroughs’ performance in domestic waste recycling (had a look at Bromley, Enfield and Tower Hamlets websites) but it’s not the easiest info to get hold of.

    I think the comment below about the ability and confidence to judge by smell and taste whether food is fit to eat is very important. This is definitely one of the skills which has been lost.

    My eldest has just begun to study Food Technology, a subject title of which I am wary. I can understand the value of a subject we might call ‘Nutritional Science’ (nutrition, human biology, the processes of digestion and metabolism, chemistry and also the science of modern food production). But if children are being taught to prepare food, surely that subject is ‘Cookery’? Calling it ‘Food Technology’ risks making a complex and rather alarming mystery out of what should be a straightforward life skill, and hence putting them off.

    I’m not sure we can replace the teaching of cooking at home. But holding that up as some lost ideal is unhelpful – for many families now it’s not realistic or reasonable and we have to look at other ways of skilling young people. Without the skills, though, we do have a problem.