Durham University unveils new scheme to tackle food waste


In May 2021, Palatinate published an article which revealed that 266.8 tonnes of food were being wasted annually by Durham’s catered colleges. Food waste has been a serious issue for the university, particularly during the pandemic when students were served food by the catering staff which meant that they could not portion food to their own needs. One attempt at reducing food waste during this period was to offer second portions to students at the end of each mealtime and there were food waste recycling bins in corridors to try and dispose of food waste in a more environmentally friendly way. However, like many other businesses that cater for a large number of people every day, there is more that needs to be done to try and reduce the excess production and waste of food.


Introduced during Michaelmas term 2022, Durham University has partnered with the app Too Good To Go which offers livers out healthy, balanced meals that would otherwise go to waste for a reduced price of £2. The Too Good To Go app which has been rated one of the ‘7 best food waste apps for more sustainable eating habits’ by  The Independent is the fastest growing start-up in terms of downloads according to  Retail Technology Innovation Hub . the company aims to limit the food waste of businesses by encouraging them to sell almost out-of-date food at one-third of the original price. As well as benefitting the environment, this scheme makes eating out more accessible, especially during a time in which bills and other expenses are increasing and many people can no longer afford to eat in restaurants. The Too Good To Go Impact Report states that by the end of 2021 52.2 million users had downloaded the app and 29 million meals had been collected in total. Other universities in the United Kingdom have also recently joined the app including Bristol University, Kings College London and Warwick University. For the scheme to operate, college catering staff are asking for volunteers to give 30 minutes of their day each week to help its smooth running. The scheme is currently operating in the following colleges and locations: St Cuthbert’s Society, Hatfield, Castle, St Mary’s, Van Mildert, Circolo Restaurant (Palatine Centre), Cafe & Clubroom @ Maiden Castle, Zing Kitchen (Teaching & Learning Centre), and Fusion Restaurant (Durham University Business School).


As part of my interest and research into the scheme, I bought what Too Good To Go calls a ‘Magic Bag’ to see what you might receive for £2. The collection time of the bags differs among colleges, however from what I could see on the app, the collection time appeared to be somewhere between 14:00 and 16:00. The scheme seems to be gaining a lot of momentum among students as by 14:00 all the bags had sold out at St Mary’s College and as I entered the dining hall I saw other people also leaving with brown paper bags. The college gave me a choice of a hot lunch meal and a dessert which consisted of pasta, a vegetarian pancetta sauce or gammon, vegetables, a jacket potato and a slice of chocolate tart. I enjoyed the meal, it was very filling and there were instructions on the package about how to heat it. Although more expensive than bringing a packed lunch from home, I think £2 is a very reasonable price and it is cheaper than other alternatives such as buying a meal at a campus café or a supermarket meal deal. The only things I would improve would be to suggest that colleges say if a vegetarian or vegan option is available for collection on the app as I only found out when I received the bag that there was a vegetarian option and was also told that this may not be available every day.  In addition to this, it is a shame that colleges are unable to extend the scheme to students outside of the college or people not from the university as when I arrived, it was nearing the end of the collection slot and there was still a lot of food left. Hopefully, in the future the university will consider extending the scheme to others as this could further reduce food waste at Durham. Although the scheme will not completely rid the university of its problems surrounding the excess production of food, I think it is a good step in the university’s attempt to improve its environmental footprint.


Image Credits: Mikhail Nilov on Pexels

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