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Thursday, 31 October 2019 18:19

Opinion: Pumpkin waste the real Halloween horror story

With an estimated 18,000 tonnes of perfectly edible pumpkins thrown away in the UK every year, Philip Simpson, commercial director at ReFood, urges consumers to think hard about unnecessary waste this Halloween.

Pumpkins are high in fibre, calcium and magnesium. Their seeds, when toasted, are rich in potassium and protein. Just 80g counts as one of your five-a-day, while high concentrations of vitamins A and C improve your eyesight and protect the skin from sunburn.

PhilipSimpsonBut despite being categorised as a 'superfood', of the 15 million pumpkins grown in the UK every year, less than a third are eaten. Instead, we carve faces into them, set them alight, leave them outside for weeks and then simply bin them. To put this into context, that's the equivalent of 360 million portions of pumpkin pie, or enough to make a bowl of soup for every person in the UK.

While pumpkins aren't a dinner table staple in the UK, it's up to all of us to take responsibility for the waste our Halloween decorations generate. After all, they're adding to the 15 million tonnes of food thrown away in the UK – most of which is left to rot in landfill.

To tackle the Halloween horror story, a number of companies have introduced creative waste reduction initiatives. Hubbub, for example, launched 'Pumpkin Rescue' in 2014 – a campaign that aims to bring communities together through organising hundreds of events to reduce pumpkin waste (everything from communal meals to large-scale festivals). Since its launch, the campaign has seen 18,600 people attend 239 local events and workshops, resulting in a whopping 17,500 pumpkins being diverted from landfill.

In addition, Love Food Hate Waste, the recipe sharing portal, has curated an extensive collection of pumpkin recipes to help make the most of leftovers.

ReFood DagenhamAs a leading UK food waste recycler, ReFood believes that throwing away perfectly edible food is an absolute travesty. With food poverty a serious issue nationwide, landfill shouldn't be an option. As well as being an expensive disposal solution, rotting food creates significant volumes of harmful greenhouse gases.

Instead, we must follow guidance outlined in the food waste hierarchy. If we can't reduce waste, we should redistribute it to people in need. If deemed unsuitable for human consumption, we should send it to be used as animal feed. For unavoidable waste (such as bones, gristle and shells) or out-of-date produce, we should prioritise anaerobic digestion (AD) to turn inedible waste into renewable energy and sustainable biofertiliser. The above solutions contribute to a circular economy and ensure resources are kept in the value chain for as long as possible.

What's essential is that food isn't sent for incineration or landfilled. Both options are linear economies and fail to realise the true value of food waste.

With three state-of-the-art AD facilities across the UK (Widnes, Doncaster and Dagenham), we turn more than 400,000 tonnes of food waste into renewable energy every year – enough to power 35,000 homes nationwide. The leftover digestate is turned into PAS110 accredited fertiliser and used by nearby farmers to grow the next harvest of crops; a totally closed-loop solution. There is absolutely no waste resulting from our AD solution and we use self-generated energy to power the site, meaning our carbon footprint is minimal.

Our ambition is to see zero waste to landfill right across the UK, using the food waste hierarchy to ensure the best use of resources wherever possible. This absolutely includes pumpkin waste at Halloween. Our message is therefore clear – while waste may be unavoidable, capturing the value in resources is easily achievable if we opt for sustainable solutions to divert waste from landfill.