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Zhero waste

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Last year, the Market’s traders—in partnership with Plan Zheroes—donated almost 9,000 kilos of surplus food to charities across London. Now, with the help of Better Bankside bikes, they’re launching a new distribution service alongside an extra mid-week drop in to help get more surplus food to more people. Managing director of Borough Market Darren Henaghan and CEO of Plan Zheroes Laura Hopper tell us how it works, and why it matters

Words: Ellie Costigan
Images: Joseph Fox 

“Lead by example” is the philosophy that underpins all that Borough does, says the Market’s managing director, Darren Henaghan—and when it comes to food waste, the Market has set the bar high. With the help of Plan Zheroes and Better Bankside, last year, the Market’s traders collectively donated 8,909kg of surplus food—that’s the equivalent of around 17,800 meals—to 15 charities across the capital. And they’re not stopping there.  

“We’ve been doing the Saturday collection for almost three years now and we know there’s more surplus food available during the week—things like bread are made every day, for example—so we’ve decided to organise a mid-week collection to help gather more food, and distribute it to more charities,” says Laura Hopper, CEO of Plan Zheroes.

“A lot of the charities only work Monday to Friday—the mid-week collections are therefore much more convenient for them than the Saturday evening one. What’s more, now that we have the Better Bankside bikes, we’ll be able to reach charities that are unable to come to the Market to collect produce, and therefore weren’t able to benefit in the past.”

Food waste collection team

Zero-emission bikes
Traverse across central London in the coming weeks and you’ll likely see them: Borough Market and Better Bankside staff on electric-assisted, zero-emission bikes, loaded with boxes of food. This service, along with the Wednesday and Saturday drop-in collections available at the Market, will help feed some of the city’s neediest people, in conjunction with charities and initiatives such as St Mungo’s, ATD Fourth World, Age UK and Lucy Brown House, a sheltered housing unit for elderly Southwark Council tenants.

Often with charity initiatives, results are limited due to lack of resources—be it storage space, or a matter of not having enough willing, spare hands; the mid-week collection helps to ease these issues. “We have a lot of very small artisan producers who haven’t got the storage space to keep produce knocking around until Saturday—a mid-week collection provides a solution to that problem,” says Darren. “It means the produce is fresher, too, and therefore of more use to our partner organisations.”

There’s been no lack of enthusiasm, either. “When we asked our staff for volunteers to help with the new collections, we were unsure how many would want to do it—but they jumped at the chance,” smiles Darren proudly. “It’s great fun, what with the bike, but it’s important—not just for us as a trust, but for the traders and the rest of the Market staff. And the fact that there will be homeless people tonight, after today’s collection, eating dover sole is just brilliant.”

Better Bankside bike

Poverty and food waste
It addresses two of the biggest current issues society is facing: poverty, and food waste. “It’s amazing it’s not common practise,” sighs Darren. “It’s truly one of the most important things that we do.”

The causes of food poverty are multifaceted; the issue cannot be solved by surplus food distribution alone. Mindful of this, where possible, Plan Zheroes works with charities that offer a more rounded approach to supporting the recipients of their service.

“This isn’t just about the food: it’s about genuinely helping the people that receive it. That’s why it’s different working with these guys than just simply donating food, because it’s targeted—this goes to our neighbours,” emphasises Darren. “It’s about Borough Market’s place within the community, and there’s no escaping the fact there are some vulnerable people in our community. Plan Zheroes works with charities which provide that wraparound support, as well as providing food.”

One such example is the charity’s work with the Abbey Centre, a community hub for the residents of Westminster set up in 1948 to offer assistance following the devastation of World War II. While a high proportion of produce received is used to provide meals for rough sleepers, and food boxes for local low-income families, the centre also hosts weekly Cook & Eat classes, teaching food preparation, nutrition and cooking skills. Further, by incorporating donated food into the menu at its social enterprise café, the Wash House, it is able to provide nutritious meals to local residents, at very reasonable prices.

Appreciation of food
“While many charities are well supported by food donations from large companies, it is important to the Abbey Centre to continue to work with organisations such as Plan Zheroes and Borough Market who share their values of community and appreciation of food,” says Laura.

Plan Zheroes only works with organisations it knows and trusts, to ensure things are handled properly and safely—but, Laura stresses, they’re not about to discriminate against a charity. “There is a wider issue of homelessness and we agree that there should be a structured way of addressing that,” she says. “Everyone knows that redistribution of surplus food is not the answer to food poverty—but if the food is there, why not give it to people who need it?”

For as long as there’s waste and those in need, they’ll keep on. “Make sure that it grows and grows” Plan Zheroes founder Lotti Henley urges. “Don’t ever stop.”