Food Waste: The social trend leaving a bad taste

FROM pictures at pumpkin patches for Instagram, to viral food challenges for YouTube, to the upcoming festive season, research by food waste management company, Warrens, part of the Bio Capital Group, has suggested that there may be a significant connection between social media and an increase in unnecessary food waste.

‘Pumpkin patches near me’ 2012 – 2022, Source: Google Trends

Seasonal events are a social media goldmine, however, they’re also a prime example of how trends lead to an increase in food waste. From pumpkin patches at Halloween to flaming Christmas puddings destined for the bin, the public’s obsession with aesthetic is having a negative impact on landfills.

‘Pumpkin patch’ August – October 2022,
Source: Exploding Topics

The rise of the pumpkin patch
In the last 10 years, searches for pumpkin patches have risen exponentially from almost zero to over 2 million in the last year alone, with a 7,600% increase in searches in the three months before Halloween.

On Instagram, over 4.3m images have been posted alongside the #PumpkinPatch hashtag. As a result of this popularity, pumpkin patches have sprung up on farms across the U.K. Such is the popularity of the trend, photographers are even offering families specialist pumpkin patch photoshoots, already a popular with U.S consumers; and where the U.S goes, we often follow.  

As for what becomes of the formerly-humble pumpkin post-picking, according to environmental charity Hubbub, 22.2 million end up going to waste.

Other social media trends leaving a nasty taste
It’s not just pumpkin patches that are contributing to food waste. TV programmes such as Man vs. Food sparked a public interest in taking on meals of gargantuan proportions, usually with the aim of getting it for free if they manage to finish it but very few can, and the leftovers sadly end up in the bin. Even as the original series ended in 2012, food challenges keep gaining new fans with searches for ‘food challenges near me” having risen 350% in the last 5 years.

Source: Kate Ovens TikTok

TikTok is the latest social media app to add to the food challenge trend where the motivation is driven by engagement, rather than a meal ticket. Social media users are seeking out these challenges in the name of likes and the hopes of beating the algorithm. The TikTok hashtag #foodchallenge has racked up over 5.7 billion views so far.

Apps to distribute edible surplus food have become increasingly popular amongst supermarkets, restaurants and cafes, however, where does that leave inedible food waste? 

What’s the next food waste trend and can it be stopped?
Christmas is a highly Instagrammable season famed for throwing caution to the wind when it comes to restraints around food which leads to almost 270,000 tonnes of food waste each year. However, the cost-of-living crisis is high on the radar for most of the UK and excessive amounts of food waste are unlikely to be a welcome sight, in the home or for commercial businesses. With that in mind, could 2022 be the year that the UK cuts down on food waste at Christmas? Experts suggest that it could be.

Richard Skelton

Richard Skelton, food waste expert from Warrens – a food waste management company that turns food waste from businesses into renewable energy, said: “This Christmas we want to see people enjoying themselves following several tough years, however, we’d also like to see social trends take a more conscious direction and businesses can lead this change. We’re seeing reports of more conservative spending, which is to be expected. For restaurateurs, it’s important to adjust demands with the supplier, if possible, to account for fewer diners. If that’s not possible, apps to distribute edible surplus food have become increasingly popular amongst supermarkets, restaurants and cafes. It’s important that everyone understands that something positive can be done with food waste.”

What can businesses do to combat food waste?

Responsible influencing
Businesses and influencers are increasingly working together to entice new customers, but consumers can play their part by making mindful choices to help these relationships to be responsible when it comes to food waste. Instead of a selection of full-sized meals to be tried and photographed individually, a selection of aesthetically pleasing sample-size portions would be a better option to showcase to followers and will mean less food goes to waste once it’s photographed. Restaurateurs could also consider adding a ‘sample selection’ to their menu for this specific purpose.

Partnering with a charity to redistribute edible food
For hospitality, retail and restaurants who regularly find themselves with an excess of food, it is worth considering partnering with a charity who can repurpose and redistribute any left-over edible food at the end of the working day. Not only is this helping to reduce food waste, but also helps to support those in the local community, something which is especially important right now.

Consider turning food waste into renewable energy 
Surplus food isn’t always edible, but it can still do some good. When food is recycled and taken to anaerobic digestion, the food is broken down by microorganisms and organic matter to produce valuable renewable resources including energy and biofertiliser. Every year Warrens can transform 115,000 tonnes of food waste into 100 million kwh of green energy, enough to power 20,000 homes.

Richard concludes: “We want to influence people to see that there are other options available when it comes to food waste. Talking about waste can be uncomfortable for businesses, but we want to change the narrative and shout about the positive contribution food waste can make to a cleaner, greener UK by redirecting it from landfill to be made into renewable energy.”

For more information visit Warrens Group: Energy from Food Waste

Main picture – Source: Instagram

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