Rethinking Christmas Food Waste

9th January 2015

As the festive season falls upon us, thoughts turn to that big Christmas meal. For many, this can bring pleasure and pain in equal measure, for sustainability-minded folk we also begin thinking about food waste. Merely glancing at the figures for food wasted at Christmas is enough to put anyone off their dinner.

The stats suggest we waste the equivalent of 2M turkeys and 74M mince pies at Christmas; whilst 5 million Christmas pudding’s go unconsumed each year. On top of that, 35% of people admit to throwing away more food at Christmas and last year the average cost of a turkey dinner neared £120 per household. With all this waste and excess, Christmas food consumption is ripe for a rethink – and as designers, we’re always looking at making this sort of thing better.

Designing out Christmas food waste

Interest in food waste has spiraled in recent times, with a number of impactful campaigns (Love Food Hate WasteInglorious Fruit & Veg), programs (FareShare) and enterprises (Rubies in the Rubble, Community Shop) emerging. All fabulous stuff, though much of this focuses on ‘end-of-pipe’ solutions, once food waste has been created, accepting inefficiency and wastage then: delivering better collection and recycling infrastructure, adding clarity on use-by dates, redistributing wasted food to the needy, creating value from wasted food, etc.

We need to actively engage people on food waste reduction or elimination during, not after the process, when they are purchasing, preparing and consuming food in real time. We need solutions that tackle Christmas food waste more systemically – designing-out waste from the start. And ideally we need to maintain an element of today’s Christmas spirit, without enormous personal sacrifice, or else people simply won’t choose it.

Getting real on Christmas dinner

On further examination, the Christmas meal itself is full of obstacles and inefficiencies that allow food waste to occur. It is a meal you only cook once a year, plus you will most likely be making for more people than normal. Cook book and online recipes are usually set for a family of four, not easily adaptable to increased guest numbers, making planning unnecessarily clumsy and again potentially wasting food. For instance, vegetables ordered online come in pre-determined quantities with no consideration for your meal size. Even those managing to cook a decent Christmas meal will then face the tricky challenge of turning leftovers into edible treats. Your taste buds may not stretch to that second turkey sandwich and your hard-fought Christmas dinner ends up in the bin.

Clearly over-ordering, poor preparation and your leftover limits lead directly to food being wasted, but on top of that, the planning and prep fill you with anything but the Christmas spirit, as you shop for the meal in a busy, stressful supermarket. All this sounds designed to deliberately catch you out; so surely there’s a better way?

To resolve all this, we created a service concept that tackles food waste and eases your shopping and cooking experience; delivering a waste and hassle-free Christmas meal.

Introducing the ‘Waste-Free Christmas Dinner Maker’ (WFCDM)

The service starts with a web app allowing you to design Christmas dinner to your taste and needs, wasting less from the get-go. If like many of us you are not into Brussels sprouts, simply remove them from the virtual plate so the app automatically updates quantities of other vegetables, maintaining a healthy dietary balance on your plate too. The WFCDM app allows you to adjust guest numbers then automatically updates your shopping list accordingly. You can also change ingredients ordering to factor in what you already have in the cupboards. The exact amounts needed for your Christmas meal are then ordered online and delivered in a reusable hamper to your door or available to be picked up at a convenient store.

To help you prepare a stress free and delicious meal the WFCDM app guides you through the cooking process step-by-step, again ensuring a waste-less dish. The app’s ‘timeline’ ensures you know exactly when to prepare what, so you can relax and enjoy time with friends and family on the big day.

Still have leftovers? The app helps you make the most of these too. It can select the foods you have left then it recommends a perfect meal for your remaining ingredients, again ordering and delivering small quantities of missing items – like herbs for that turkey curry or ice cream to go with leftover Christmas pudd – helping you extend your culinary experience to a great Boxing Day leftover dish.


The Christmas meal re-imagined

Of course this isn’t a real service, it’s a concept we dreamt up for Christmas food waste – a kind of ‘Ghost of Christmas Future’. Crucially this doesn’t use any new technology or services that aren’t in existence today, plus doesn’t demand a huge sacrifice or dietary change that many seem unwilling to change – to have a real impact. Its simply requires things being reconfigured to tackle food waste.

Faced with the excesses and indulgence of the festive season, Oliver Cromwell famously, and unsuccessfully, tried to ban Christmas, which has always felt quite ‘bah-humbug’ at a time of celebration and giving. A much better route, in our opinion, would be to tackle Christmas food waste more creatively, injecting some new and innovative thinking into this most traditional of periods.

For more information please contact our PR team.