Sheffield café owner warns of ‘disastrous’ consequences if food waste in the city is not tackled

The owner of a Sheffield café that serves meals made from out-of-date food is warning of ‘disastrous’ consequences if people continue to waste so many of the planet’s scarce resources.

Jo Hercberg, founder of The Steeple Corner Café, spoke to JUS News as part of our #SheffRubbish campaign.

She says that unless attitudes towards food waste, global warming and growing global population change, the impact on the environment will be catastrophic.

“Food waste rotting as landfill causes greenhouse gases to be emitted, means it contributes directly to global warming. This reduces our capabilities to grow food and feed our people,” Jo says.

“Throwing away perfectly edible food in an already over populated world where some countries can’t feed their people is crazy!”

It’s these issues that Jo and her team of volunteers are aiming to tackle with their Park Hill community café. Part of The Real Junk Food Project Sheffield (TRJFP), everything on the ever-changing menu is made from intercepted waste, and dinners can pay whatever they want for the meal.

Operations began in the city back in 2015 with a Sharrow-based branch. The Park Hill branch followed in late 2016. Shortly after, the Sharrow café was closed and all focus was placed on the new café. Their unique payment model attracts a range of visitors, as diners can pay whatever they can afford anonymously.

‘In the café, a lawyer can be sat next to a homeless person, having the same meal, and both contribute in the same way. That is the joy of the project.’

Turning surplus waste into meals isn’t their only day-to-day challenge. A carefully planned process, following WRAP’s ‘food waste pyramid’, means that every single scrap of waste is either used or disposed of responsibly.

If intercepted food is not suitable for humans, it is transported to Heeley City Farm and the Sheffield Wildlife Trust to become pig feed or compost. Hercberg says that working with the charities is a no-brainer.

“Several times a week we take the waste next door to the trust and over to the farm in our electric van. We are hoping to do more in the future with the team at Heeley City Farm too in terms of looking at the full circle of food to waste to food again.”

If the waste they’ve recovered is not suitable for compost, ReFood in Doncaster meet the recycling element of the pyramid. They use renewable energy for responsible disposable. Meanwhile, dry recycling is managed by Sheffield-based social enterprise, Recycling Revolution.

Café owner Jo Hercberg with ‘Juan the electric van’. Photo credit: Jason Ruffell

‘Throwing away perfectly edible food in an already over populated world where some countries can’t feed their people is crazy!’

But while the Sheffield café and its sister branches across the country are doing their bit, Jo is concerned that not enough is being done elsewhere. She notes that while Veolia, who currently manage the city’s waste, do encourage recycling, there is no food waste collection system in place.

Veolia have a 35-year contract with Sheffield City Council, who are currently looking to re-tender this service. But whilst households separate the waste it does mainly all end up in an incinerator. Most other cities have a food waste collection service as part of their waste management systems” Jo explains.

As for the solution, Jo says that an increase in home-grown food and eating seasonally is key. “This would reduce a vast amount of the waste we produce now. Food would become less of a chemically produced and preserved commodity. We’d eat as naturally as possible using age-old preservation methods such as fermenting.”

The café’s Fuel For School programme also aims to educate the next generation. “We’ve found that primary aged children tend to be really surprised by the volume of food wasted,” Jo says. “We hope that every child in Sheffield gets to learn about where food really comes from and why it shouldn’t be wasted.”

Today, The Steeple Corner Café is open five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday. The team pride themselves not just on their waste management but also on having now fed 11,000 Sheffield people.

“In the café, a lawyer can be sat next to a homeless person, having the same meal, and both contribute in the same way. That is the joy of the project.”

The Steeple Corner Café  is located at 37 Stafford Road, Norfolk Park, S2 2SE, and is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 10am-4pm (and 7-9pm on Saturday) and Thursday 10.30am-4pm.

It is currently looking for volunteers; a driver, a café assistant and a sharehouse assistant.