Could you make a wedding feast from Durham bins? Re-f-use and the scandal of food waste

How many times have you or a housemate bought a bag of carrots, lettuce, peas, used some in a meal, and then forgotten about the rest until you noticed something growing in the bottom of the fridge? It’s easily done when you’re cooking for one. But what a waste of good food! Food waste is a huge problem, and not just for the person who has the rank job of cleaning that fridge out. While more than 60,000 people in the North East were forced to use foodbanks last financial year according to Trussell Trust, we ‘poor’ students were keeping up supermarket prices by buying too much food and throwing out the excess.

Nevertheless, food waste is not all our fault. Supermarkets and other retailers must bear some of the burden too. Food packaging and labelling is not clear or transparent (do you know what the difference between ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ is? If not, look it up) and supermarket policies on changing stock can be horrific. One leading supermarket recently disposed of hundreds of boxes of fair trade tea simply because they had changed their ‘own brand’ policy on fair trade long before their current stock had gone out of date. Supermarkets also need to change the way they package goods to make it easier for consumers to buy a reasonable amount of food. Student-sized packages would certainly help to solve our mouldy veg problem.

Two ladies called Nikki and Mim are working to solve the problem in another way. They run a local charity called Re-f-use which partners with supermarkets and other retailers to collect out-of-date food and reuse it for ‘pay as you feel’ community meals. The meals are prepared by volunteers from food that would otherwise go into the trash. Anyone is welcome to share the food and pays either with money or by offering their skills from washing up to providing entertainment for other guests. If you want a taste ofwhat this is like, or simply a taste of their genius cooking, you’d be welcome at their ‘Feeding the 1000’ event on 11th November where they will be making a feast from pumpkins discarded after Halloween.

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There is also an opportunity to get more deeply involved in Re-f-use by volunteering. Volunteers are especially needed in a new ‘pay as you feel’ café starting up in Chester-le-Street. Their website,, has links to sign up to the rota.

Nikki and Mim are also encouraging the use of a new app, OLIO, which allows users to advertise unused food for free for neighbours topick up. Think how useful this could be for students who have unused food when they head home for the holidays! It is available to download from Google Play and the App Store so get involved and reduce your food waste this term.

But what about that wedding feast? Re-f-use can also be booked to cater for events, so next time you’re procrastinating by planning your wedding why not imagine a wedding reception with canapes made from supermarket waste? The caramelised onion and brie tarts served at a Re-f-use event in Chester-le-Street wouldn’t leave anyone disappointed.

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