'Food for Thought' was a series of interactive virtual sessions hosted by the Circular Economy & Strategy team at Essex County Council (ECC), intended to start discussions with residents around food waste and offer solutions to common obstacles that lead to food being wasted.
Each week, the discussion focussed on a different theme: Food Waste & Climate Change, Planning & Shopping, Storage & Portions, and Leftovers.
The aim of this pilot was to encourage residents to explore food waste and offer them personalised techniques and advice. It was designed to be a collaborative pilot, where further sessions would have been shaped by the residents’ feedback and discussions that had happened during the pilot.
Any Essex resident. The project was initially advertised within the “Love Essex Champions” Facebook volunteer group, in order to secure bookings for people who are genuinely interested in behaviour change and to avoid drop out. Champions were encouraged to take part and bring a friend with them. Promotion then occurred on other ECC managed channels and to ECC staff via the intranet and internal Teams networks.
Planning for the pilot started in April 2022 and was then consolidated in June. Single sessions were held once a week over September, and lasted approximately two hours each.
Who was involved in this project?
Essex County Council (ECC) – Circular Economy team.
- Circular Economy Officers.
- Volunteer Manager.
Other stakeholders involved
It was originally planned for the project to be delivered by an external consultant. However, the plan was then revisited and brought in-house.
Where was the project piloted and why?
Online in Essex. This was to allow anyone in Essex to attend without requiring additional time/travel than the time for the sessions.
Why was the project created?
Why we did the project
Preventing food waste and making sure residents know how to dispose of it correctly are among ECC’s priorities. Food waste makes up roughly 26% of the residual waste and contributes to climate change if disposed of in landfill. It is also a waste of money, which is a concern during a time of deep financial crisis for many residents.
The team wanted to trial an additional approach to the general advice that is regularly provided via the website, newsletters and social media. The pilot was meant to focus on the participants’ individual needs and challenges, and accompany them on their journey to prevent food waste.
Expected value to the circular economy
A reduction in food waste is the biggest value, not only does this reduce disposal costs to ECC, it also decreases CO2 emissions associated with transporting food waste. Uptake of food waste recycling service would also mean that biological materials are circulating in biological loops and getting returned to the environment through composting.
How was the project implemented?
- Background research.
- Set up working group.
- Define processes and plan sessions.
- Source equipment and materials.
- Create promotional materials, presentations and feedback surveys.
- Delivery of four sessions.
- Surveys sent to participants and non-participants.
Cost and staff resource
- Prize for a participant attending all four sessions (supermarket and garden centre vouchers).
- An £85 incentive was sourced for the non-participants survey.
- Planning time and delivery for four staff members.
- £11.99 Monthly membership for delivery platform (Zoom) – this was already owned by the Team.
Data protection and communications teams were made aware of the pilot and did not request any additional compliance as no sensitive data was collected or kept.
Although 25 people signed up for the pilot, only five attended the session and only two people attended more than one. These were very different results than what was expected and the team used the experience as a lesson learnt.
- Planning took a long time. Brief was nebulous to start with; the initial idea of external delivery was changed; ideas for engagement were reviewed.
- The project was delivered in September in advertised in July/August – not ideal if people are busy on holiday and feel disconnected from their diary. More time should have been allocated for people to sign up.
- High staff time considered the low participation achieved.
- Roles were not clearly defined in the project team and at times more than one person was leading. It was also felt that tasks were not fairly distributed, but just allocated on the basis of who had time or volunteered for them.
- The idea of giving priority to the volunteer group did not work and then only limited time was left to advertise on other channels.
- For future pilots, it would be better to promote widely on various channels form the beginning and account for high rates of drop out. Targeted and boosted promotion would also be helpful.
- Some people who signed up and then did not attend seemed to need more clarity on content, time of the day and format of the sessions (virtual).
- Low number of participants limited the input and conversation about what they found challenging with preventing food waste.
- Engagement tool (Facebook group) could not be used as not enough members.
- Limited feedback on the format received due to the low number of participants.
- Notwithstanding the low numbers, participants enjoyed the sessions and found them very useful
- Staff could have invited participants to become ambassadors for what they had learnt with family and friends.
- Low number of responses from non-participants even with the incentive of a prize.
- The presentations should have been recorded to be used again on request or for a follow up series.
- It would be good to trial different times for the sessions.
- Consider online fatigue and trial in-person sessions.
The team dedicated quite a lot of time to this project but attendance was very low. There is always a drop out when events are organised, however, earlier promotion and engagement could have been helpful to understand how much appetite there was for this initiative.