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Why waste it? Food comes to the rescue

It’s a frosty Monday morning, and operations coordinator for food rescue organisation Waiwaste Laura Garland pulls a jacket hood up over her ears.

“God, it’s freezing isn’t it?”

There’s no time to stand around and shiver however, the clock is ticking, and there’s food to be saved from the unpalatable fate of rotting in a landfill.

Despite what some may believe, the white vans rolling about town with Waiwaste printed in bold are not on a mission to steal your bins.

Instead, the only thing the organisation is interested in is nabbing any un-sellable food destined for the landfill and instead distributing it to community groups who can use it.

The designated pick-up spots for the day are Pak’nSave, Moore Wilsons, Countdown and New World.

Each supermarket has set aside a different amount and variety of food, which due to either expiration dates, damaged packaging or quality, isn’t commercially viable and would otherwise be thrown out.

Most of it, give or take the odd squashed pear or blackened carrot, is perfectly safe to eat.

Outside Moore Wilsons, Laura moves a box of bulk-sized vegan cream cheese sachets into the van.

“I’m really proud of this work, it really feels like we make a difference in being able to save it.”

At Countdown we wheel out a trolley filled with milk bottles nudging too close to expiry dates, frozen meat and a huge stack of crates containing a mix of produce.

Store manager Adam Hall said he believed more businesses were starting to address food waste.

“It’s not just within supermarkets, it’s everywhere,” Hall said.

“The conversation’s growing all over.”

Included in this morning’s saved produce was a tray of taro and bunches of under-ripe bananas.
A huge varity of produce is saved from landfill by Waiwaste.

The cause for a growing conversation is the nauseating amount of food that winds up in the rubbish, both nationally and globally.

Results from a Rabobank and KiwiHarvest study last year suggested that more than 100,000 tonnes of edible food was wasted in New Zealand.

This waste produces about eight per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations Environment Programme 2021 food waste index report.

At a time when wallets are tight, and many are finding it more difficult to stock the pantry each week, Garland says it doesn’t make sense for good food to be thrown out.

“It’s about education, teaching people to use their senses and realise that actually, most of this food is fine to eat,” Garland says.

“Ideally one day we’ll be made redundant as food rescuers, and there won’t be this waste – but we’re not there yet.”

Back at the depot, Garland spots a crate filled with giant, round taro – not something they see every day – and thinks about which recipient group might like it.

“Oh, I wonder if the Pasifika group are coming today, they’d love those.”

After a quick phone call, it’s established that yes, Pasifika o Wairarapa are coming today and yes, they’d love the taro.

The rest of the morning is spent sorting through the range of items collected, and anything considered past the point of no return gets chucked in the scrap bucket to be composted.

Long-time volunteer Gary Saunders holds up one of the plastic-wrapped pizzas.

“I can’t quite find the dates on these, Laura can you have a look?”

After another inspection, Garland spots the date and the pizza can be saved.

In several bags of mandarins, one offending culprit is plucked out, and the rest are put in the okay pile, the same with netted bags with one bruised pear or split tomatoes.

Included in the mix are frozen bags of fish, shampoo, prepacked pizzas and various split boxes of goods unable to be put on the shelf.

Best-before dates are scoured to decide each item’s fate, and the plastic wrapping is separated to be recycled.

The rest is divvied between groups collecting that morning and deliveries to the food bank and community kitchen in Masterton.

Waiwaste Coordinator Aaron Middleton explains that products going to the foodbank need to be good for at least a few days.

“They need stuff which can sit for a bit if needed,” Middleton said.

“We know more or less what each place will use, so we can sort it out on our end and make it quicker.”

The other delivery is at the Wairarapa Community Centre, where centre manager Beverly Jack spots the box filled with cream cheese.

“That’s fantastic, it’ll go in our sauces!”

Jack explains that as Waiwaste runs through daily collection systems – meaning they won’t always know what they’ll be picking up – items the centre receives often prompt creativity in the kitchen.

“It means we can be creative with it and give it a home, rather than it be sent to the landfill,” Jack says.

The rescued food at the centre will be used in meals cooked by volunteers and distributed to those in need from South Wairarapa to the Tararua District.

Back at the depot, Garland leans back for a brief moment outside in the sun and reflects on Waiwaste’s relationship with other community groups.

“It’s a real network, and it’s about how we connect and work together. We feed each other.”

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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