Waste Not Want Not – Making Food Waste Useful


Picture by Sadie Catt

When I’m not working for Semble, I help to run a local community project that I set up while at university.

Bristol Junk Food (formerly Bristol Student Junk Food) is a pop up surplus food cafe running events across Bristol that uses food donated by local businesses. We run a pay as you feel system with all profits going to local charitable groups and projects. We have supported causes such as Better Food’s ‘Streets to Kitchen’ campaign (which helps those affected by homelessness in Bristol find new routes to recovery), and FareShare South West’s #ActivAteBristol campaign (which combats holiday hunger experienced by children living in poverty).

The project has the following aims:

  • Reduce food waste generated by local businesses.
  • Feed those at risk of food poverty.
  • Support charities – especially those working with people living in food poverty.
  • Help bring different communities together.
  • Give people a chance to volunteer, allowing people to gain experience/skills and help others.

The project was started in 2016 and to date we have served over 880 meals and raised £2,080 for charity. According to figures provided by FareShare South West, this money is enough to provide 8,320 meals to people in need. In 2018 we were awarded the Bristol SU Sustainability Award, which recognises an individual or student group who have gone above and beyond to create positive environmental, social or economic change at university.

One of the things we are proudest of is that we have helped some of our volunteers to set up their own food waste projects. We hope that this article will serve as a guide to help others run their own too. If you have any questions about what we do or how you can go about doing something similar, please contact us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, or email us at bsjunkfood@gmail.com.

How we got set up…


We have found it incredibly useful to have an online presence. It has helped with recruiting volunteers, connecting with suppliers, collaborating with other community groups and attracting guests to our events. The Semble platform (which you are currently on!) is perfect for this as it is custom built to connect community projects with businesses who want to do good and volunteers who want to help – as well as having lots of funding opportunities!

In addition, having an active social media presence is a good way to gain a following and has been our main way of recruiting volunteers and attracting guests. It gives the project a certain amount of credibility as people can see your track record. We have also found it a very useful way to maintain good working relationships with suppliers who appreciate the good press.

Finding a space

Getting access to a good space can be a real struggle – we got very lucky when we started as the University of Bristol’s Multifaith Chaplaincy is a perfect space which is free to use for students. If you are looking for a space, the most important features are:

  • A kitchen (with decent equipment, white goods and work space).
  • A dining room (ideally the kitchen and dining room will be in the same building – although we have put on events where we cooked in a South Bristol kitchen and served in North Bristol).

If you are a university student it is worth finding out if you have access to a space similar to the one we first used. Alternatively many churches, community centres and village/town halls often have a space that works. They may charge for use of this space, although if you explain that the project is in aid of a charity they may be willing to lower or scrap the cost. We have been lucky to never be charged for the spaces we have used but when someone (especially a charity) lets us use their space we will give them a proportion of the money raised.

Getting food waste donations

You won’t be surprised to find out that this part is very important – but when speaking to other projects many tell us that they struggle with it.

We have found that the best chance of successfully securing donations is to go into a shop and speak with the people working there face to face. Phoning is ok (but not great) and don’t bother emailing. Be friendly, explain the project and be clear about what you are asking from them. Ask to speak to a manager and arrange a collection time that works for them. You want to make it as easy for them as possible to give you the food, so make sure you are on time and are as helpful with the process as possible.  Don’t ask them to deliver the food to you – they won’t have the time or resource to do this.

We have a wide range of suppliers, including:

  • A fruit and veg market
  • Bakeries
  • Supermarkets
  • Green grocers

We have not been successful with restaurants who tend to claim that they are very good at managing their stock – although this does not reflect what I have seen in any restaurant I have worked in! At first our method was to ask as many people as possible, although we have now established great relationships with a small number of suppliers who we can rely on to get all the food we need.

Some suppliers, especially large supermarkets, have asked to inspect our kitchen, to see copies of our health and safety certificates (this is a really useful thing to get and can be done online) and for us to sign forms removing any liability from them. We will always try to do all we can to make a supplier feel confident about working with us and if you want to run a similar project you will most likely be asked for similar things.

Running an event

Before the day

Here are the steps we take when we are going to run an event:

  1. Project leaders meet to plan the event. We will agree a date, venue, who we want to raise money for and agree everyone’s roles.
  2. Book the venue.
  3. Contact suppliers.
  4. Inform volunteers about the event – give each one a supplier to collect from and let them know what their role will be at the event.
  5. Create an event page on Semble and Facebook, usually using pictures of previous events and details of what guests can expect, as well as what we are raising money for. We then share these events with friends and ask the charities we partner with to share them on their own pages.
  6. Collect all the food the night before the event and store it somewhere appropriate, ideally a cool dry place such as a fridge or larder.
  7. Plan the meal (usually done the night before an event once all the food has been collected).

Once we’ve collected we will take inventory and throw away any unusable food, although we almost never get food that we can’t use. One issue we have come across is the huge amounts of bread we receive, so coming up with creative recipes to cater for this has been interesting (truckloads of croutons).

It is rare that we are given things like dry food, herbs, spices and oil, so we occasionally have to buy or bring these items ourselves. We would never spend more than £20 on these things.

On the day

The day of an event is usually really busy and long – so try and make it fun! During the day we will try to mix up roles with everyone switching between prep, cooking, serving and cleaning. Having (and sticking to) a plan, everyone knowing their roles and having good communicatio

n is really important.

We place donation pots at the serving point and on tables. These need to be clearly labelled (ideally with some info about the charity being supported) and we make sure to ask our guests to give what they can (and what they feel the food is worth).

To make sure the event is enjoyable, we have good music, our volunteers are super friendly and approachable and we try to make the venue look as nice as possible.

It is important to have really good food and generous portions. This will encourage people to come again and bring friends – which has really helped us build long-lasting support. Try to make sure nothing is left over, anything that is we ask people to take home.

Once guests have gone, all volunteers help tidy up – it is important you leave the venue looking good (especially if you’d like to use it again!). We then get everyone to count the money together which is a really nice way to end the session, as you can see the success you’ve had and the difference you have made. We try to encourage the team to discuss how it went and give people the opportunity to raise any concerns.

After the event

We make sure to thank our guests across all online platforms. We share pictures, say how many meals were served and how much money was raised (and what impact this money will have).

All that’s left is to send the money to your chosen charity, thank the suppliers who have provided food and thank the people who run the venue.

Top tip: Take good pictures throughout the event as this will help when promoting future events!

Further reading

The following sites have provided us with valuable information during the last three years. If you are interested in setting up your own food waste project, I would highly recommend giving them a read.

  1. Providing food at community and charity events by the Food Standards Agency
  2. Businesses donating food to charities – Q and A by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (the legislation discussed in this article applies across the EU so is, at the time of writing, relevant for the UK)
  3. Organising a voluntary event: a ‘can do’ guide by the Cabinet Office

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