Too good to waste
An initiative in the English town of Milton Keynes, 90 kilometres north-west of London, saves edible food that is no longer saleable from being thrown away and redistributes it to those who need it most. Bosch eBike Systems supports this social project.
New towns have a lot of advantages – provided they are well planned. Milton Keynes, just under 90 kilometres north-west of London, is one such town: it is just 54 years old, has many roundabouts, lots of parkland, 22 million trees and a dense network of cycle paths.
Delivery to the front door: People who can't leave home get food brought to them by Food Connect.
When Ritchie Dixon rides his electric-powered cargo bike around Milton Keynes to deliver surplus food from supermarkets to community fridges, he sees a lot of green spaces around him. "I listen to the birds, the rustling of the trees, I smell the flowers and sometimes stop to tell curious people what I'm up to," he says.
Ritchie Dixon is a rider for Hubbub's Food Connect pilot project, and he loves his job. A former social worker, the 53-year-old family man is delighted to be able to do something for the people of Milton Keynes. He's thrilled with how easy his eCargo bike is to ride, even when it's fully loaded. eCargo bikes can carry up to 250 kilos, and on average Ritchie carries around 100 kilos. To stay on the right route and to ensure the food reaches the right people, he follows the navigation instructions on his Nyon display on the handlebar. "It's never let me down," he says. "People can count on me finding them."
He works for Food Connect, a food rescue and redistribution initiative set up by London-based charity Hubbub. Supported by Bosch eBike Systems, Food Connect uses three Bosch-powered eCargo bikes and an electric delivery van to collect and redistribute food in Milton Keynes in an environmentally-friendly way.
Save instead of waste – initiatives following this principle have emerged all over the world in recent years to combat a global problem: 1.6 billion tonnes – about one third of all food produced for human consumption worldwide – ends up as refuse every year, according to United Nations estimates. This has dramatic consequences for land use, water resources and carbon dioxide emissions. According to the UN, food waste is responsible for eight percent of emissions worldwide.
The pandemic has exacerbated the problem, including in Milton Keynes. During the national lockdown in summer 2020, Food Connect saved more than 21 tonnes of food from being thrown away. For the most part, these are products that are no longer saleable but are in perfect condition, with expired best-before dates, or fruit and vegetables with minor blemishes.
In many UK cities, this food is stored in community fridges, known as 'food hubs', which are part of Hubbub's network of community fridges from which any member of the public can help themselves. Volunteers help in providing the food. They all work just as conscientiously and safely as the supermarkets where the goods originate. Anyone who goes to the community fridge is allowed to take up to ten products per person per day and share them with friends or acquaintances.
Rescue mission: rider Ritchie Dixon on his rounds by the cargo bike to deliver food to those in need.
Sustainability pro: Helen Innes, Food Connect project manager.
"Since Food Connect started delivering food to community fridges, people can be sure there's always something available when they come," says Helen Innes, who is leading the pilot project in Milton Keynes on behalf of Hubbub. "This is a very good model for the quickest way to share a lot of food that would otherwise have been disposed of." 77,500 people have been helped in this way so far, many of them regular users. Food Connect handles the logistics behind collecting expired food and immediately distributing it to stakeholders through its network of community refrigerators. "We don't have much time," says Helen Innes. "The eCargo bikes help us get from A to B quickly, so the food stays fresh and the cold chain isn't broken."
The eBike has not only proven itself to be the fastest means of transport for distances of up to ten kilometres, but also helps to reduce the impact on the environment. For example, an eCargo bike with DualBattery produces just 30 g CO2 for a journey of ten kilometres. The average emissions from a car for the same distance are 1130 g CO2.
Good and green - this is the principle on which the project is to be expanded after a successful pilot phase. Riders are paid a salary, and the service is expected to develop into an income-generating business – with the goal of creating environmentally-friendly jobs.
Helen Innes is confident that Food Connect has a future in the city: "The bridges we've built recently with many businesses in the city are sustainable and we can use that to develop Food Connect even more." This is a promising prospect – and a model not just for cities in the UK.