Helen White, Associate Director, and Tetra Tech’s UK-based expert on food waste discusses celebrity encounters, ‘light bulb’ moments for complex environmental matters, and the fight to reduce food waste in the UK.

1. What is your role at Tetra Tech?

I lead the team that provides advice and support to local authorities about waste and recycling (and other environmental services) to include a range of strategic and operational solutions. I am also Tetra Tech’s UK-based expert on food waste!

2. You’ve been part of the environmental sector for almost 20 years now. What changes have you seen in the industry over that time?

The range of material that can be collected has really grown, although not all of it can be recycled kerbside, which is the option with the least friction for most people. For example, this morning I put small electricals out for recycling alongside the residual waste, and it was so convenient. I wish the same applied to plastic bags and wrapping!

There are areas where I’d like to see more progress, such as re-use, and we need to think creatively about tackling household food waste. I’d like to see it considered in the design of every fridge, every kitchen, and every housing development.

I’d also like to see food businesses focus on what they can do to reduce the food each of us wastes at home every year, which now weighs the same as an average person (76kg or 11st 9lb) and accounts for almost three-quarters of the UK’s food waste problem.

This year’s #FoodWasteActionWeek is focusing on fresh produce, because fresh vegetables and salad is the UK’s most wasted food group. By selling more fresh produce loose, so people can buy only what they need, the retailers could really help to reduce food waste significantly as well as unnecessary plastic packaging.

3. You’ve become something of a spokesperson for reducing food waste after your media appearances and presentations around the world. Any standout moments?

I’ve had the privilege of meeting some amazing people and organisations. One of the most memorable was Jamie Oliver, who I’ve always admired. I presented a Lunch and Learn on food waste in the home to the Jamie Oliver Group, and he was so generous with his time and when introducing me to the team. He’s passionate about what he does, and I love to see that quality in others. My son, who is a big fan, was quite impressed with mum on that day!

Rooting through bags of food waste with Jimmy Doherty for Food Unwrapped was fun and for previous Food Waste Action Weeks I have had the pleasure of working with Nadiya Hussain, Gregg Wallace, and Jordan Banjo. Sometimes though, it’s talking to ordinary people about food waste that produces those ‘light bulb’ moments, when you all learn something new and better still, start doing it.

4. What’s the most rewarding part of giving your insights and strategies to clients?

It’s so satisfying helping clients to interpret evidence, insights, and data to assess and shape strategic priorities and actions – whether that’s a local authority considering the options for its waste and recycling services or a business developing its food waste prevention strategy.

My work is all about developing practical, outcome-focused solutions with a focus on householders and how best to change their behaviour.

As the self-styled ‘Food Waste Lady’ I also seek to inspire others to influence and drive change. When I appeared on the podcast ‘The Big Green Money Show,’ the presenters described me as “one of our most enthusiastic guests ever!”

5. You’ve previously said you feel that it needs to be easier for people to make the right choice. Do you think we’re making progress in that respect?

Not as quickly as I’d like. There’s still a heavy reliance on the individual to change their behaviour, and not just in terms of reducing food waste. We under-estimate the influence of context and over-estimate the influence of communication on people doing the ‘right’ thing. The more I work in this area, the more I feel the solutions to our complex environmental (and other) problems lie in changing the system, not the individual.

6. What advice would you give to someone who wants to make a difference, but doesn’t even know where to start?

Changing behaviours can be challenging, but I’ll always encourage people to reduce their own food waste. We can all do something about food waste – and that’s where Food Waste Action Week comes in. This year’s theme is ‘choose what you’ll use’ – and buying the right amount of fresh produce is a great place to start!

7. Where do you see the future of sustainability heading? Is it a combination of personal everyday changes and support for organisations eager to make a change?

Technology is going to play a bigger part in tackling food waste in the future. People are already using apps, such as Kitche, to manage the food they buy. But we can’t just wait until we advance ourselves out this problem, because time is running out. Food waste needs to be at the very heart of policy, and business decision-making, if the UK is going to reduce it by a further 45kg per person in six years’ time.

8. What role do you envision Tetra Tech playing in this future?

Tetra Tech has an excellent track record in providing consultancy services to local authorities on waste and recycling. The Government’s ‘Simpler Recycling’ policy, whereby every local authority in England is required to collect food waste from households by 2026, offers an exciting opportunity to support local authorities and improve food waste collections.

There’s more to do in terms of broader sustainability strategies, given its enormous impact on the environment. Tetra Tech is well placed to develop sustainability, waste management, and Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) strategies that could incorporate food waste reduction.

In my new role, I’m also looking for strategic partners with whom to combine my food waste prevention expertise to form a powerful food waste reduction offer to UK and international businesses. If that sounds like you, please reach out and unite in the food waste fight!

For more information, contact Helen at: [email protected]

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