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Fighting Food Waste at University

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

Aisling Murray discusses the issue of food waste and the inspiring initiatives such as the Food Waste Cafe Sussex being started up across the country. Find out about the simple ways you can reduce your own food waste and how to get involved in projects near you!

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One third of the food produced in the world for human consumption goes to waste every year and in the UK alone 250,000 tonnes of the food that gets thrown away every year is still good enough to eat. That’s 650 million meals worth of food that goes to waste while 8.4 million people in the UK go hungry. If global food waste were a country it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter after the US and China. One third of the world’s agricultural land area is used to grow food that doesn’t get eaten and 267 trillion litres of water are used just to produce the food that gets thrown away.

We must not let governments and corporations off the hook when it comes to fighting the climate crisis but this doesn’t mean that individual actions don’t also make a vital difference. 71% of food wasted in the UK is done so at a household level meaning that if we want to reduce food waste in the UK even by just 20% by 2025 then nearly 17% of this reduction needs to come from individual action.

This is why we decided to set up a Food Waste Cafe at the University of Sussex which we have been running on campus since 2016. We use food that would otherwise go to waste and turn it into healthy vegan and vegetarian meals which we serve on a pay as you feel basis. 1 in 3 students skip meals because they can’t afford food and on our campus we were wasting 47 tonnes of food every year so we started working with The Real Junk Food Project to bring their food saving mission to our university.

At our very first café we served over 100 people in less than an hour and made enough money to cover our expenses meaning we could be self sustainable! We’ve made delicious meals from vegetables that were ‘too ugly’ to be sold in supermarkets. We’ve sold crates of bread, pastries and potatoes that were all going to be binned. Countless pots of noodles, coconut water and boxes of biscuits have all been donated to us which we’ve given away to students for free.

Given that the food group with the highest waste rates is fruit and vegetables (nearly half of all fruit and veg produced is never eaten!) it’s not surprising that the food we serve up at the Food Waste Cafe is always vegetarian, nearly always vegan and always super delicious. It’s great that students know there is a place on campus where they can go to get a healthy meal for next to nothing and at the same time they learn about the importance of fighting food waste.

We’re not out to make a profit so everything we do is on a pay as you feel basis. This ensures that people can still get something healthy to eat when they’re skint and the donations always cover our expenses. We’ve been lucky enough to be supported by Student Eats who have given us all the advice and resources we need to be a successful food saving enterprise and we are continuing to grow and educate more and more students about what they can do to fight the food waste crisis.

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How you can reduce food waste and save money as a student

The fight against food waste needs to take place at every level including in our own fridges and cupboards but the trick is to see your actions as part of a wider collective cultural change. Fortunately, it’s really easy to start making simple changes that will have a big impact. Not only will you reduce the amount of food that you waste but you will also save a lot of money and a lot of time.

Plan and prepare your meals

Plan what you are going to eat for the week and then only buy what you need. Cook everything up in one go in bulk, divide it into portions, stick it in the fridge or freezer and then your cooking is done for the entire week. You won’t waste money on food you don’t need, you won’t need to grab food on campus and it will seriously reduce the amount of washing up that you have to do! Pinterest and YouTube are full of healthy and affordable meal prep ideas and Love Food Hate Waste has some great recipes to help you use up any leftovers. Before you go shopping again make sure you have used up everything that is going to go out of date (and don’t forget to take a reusable bag!)

Dumpster Dive

Over one third of the food thrown into supermarket dumpsters is still good to eat. Students across the globe have taken to reclaiming food from supermarket bins to grab perfectly good food for free and stop it from going to waste! Check out local dumpster diving networks in your area such as Brum Skippers or host a film screening of Dive! on your campus to get other students on board!

Go Foraging

Foraging is another great way to stop free food from going to waste! There is loads of advice and resources out there on how, what and where to forage even in urban areas (just make sure you leave enough for the local wildlife!) You may even be lucky enough to have a foraging society at your University like they do at Kent and if you don’t you can always contact your Students’ Union to set one up!

Find a Community Fridge

Community fridges are another way for people to redistribute good food that they are not going to use so that someone else can eat it. At Sussex we are in the process of setting up a community fridge on campus so that if you’re going home for the weekend and your food is going to go out of date you can donate it rather than waste it. Hubbub has a map of the community fridges that are up and running across the country and they can also give you advice to set one up on campus!

Support the things that are already happening on your campus and in your local community

NUS Student Eats

Student Eats is an NUS sustainability initiative supporting students to put sustainable food at the heart of student life. The Sussex Food Waste Cafe is one of 70 student led food enterprises that Student Eats is supporting across the UK. Find out if there is one that you can get involved with on your campus and if there isn’t one why don’t you get in touch with Student Eats who can give you the resources you need to set one up?!

The Real Junk Food Project

With an aim to ‘feed bellies, not bins’ The Real Junk Food Project has been at the forefront of fighting food waste and hunger since 2013. They have saved 1,167,605kg of surplus food and turned it into 44,723 pay as you feel meals. They are based in nearly 50 locations around the UK so see if there is one near you and go and check them out!


In the UK every year we throw away 8.1 million tonnes of food while 8.4 million people in the UK go hungry. The Robin Hood of food waste, FareShare redistributes food industry surplus and gives it to the people who need it most. They work in 1,500 towns and cities across the UK so there is bound to be one near you!


By connecting with each other and with local shops the users of the OLIO app have saved 1,172,532 portions of food from going to waste. Download the app today and start saving food in your local community!


Feedback run a number of campaigns around food waste that students can easily get involved with and their Gleaning Network gives students the opportunity to save food first hand. Volunteers from the Sussex Food Waste Cafe recently joined the Sussex Gleaning Network to rescue apples from a commercial farm that were ‘not pretty enough’ to be sold in supermarkets and would otherwise have been left to rot!

Love Food Hate Waste

Love Food Hate Waste is an invaluable resource for any student looking to reduce their food waste and they have loads of recipe ideas to help you use up your leftovers!

Get other students on board

Individual action is much more effective when it’s part of a collective! Use your network to raise awareness about food waste on your campus. Research shows that the habits students adopt at university stay with them for life so it’s a great time to spread the word. You could work with your Students’ Union to start a campaign and find out how much food gets wasted on your campus each year or you could put on an event about fighting food waste during Go Green Week.

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About the Author: Aisling Murray studied history at the University of Sussex and is now the Society & Citizenship Officer at Sussex Students’ Union.

Check out the Sussex Food Waste Cafe here!

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