Sustainable Development Goals


Redistributing surplus meals to tackle food poverty in London

Teams of students have redistributed more than 3,000 meals that would otherwise have gone to waste from UCL to a London homeless shelter.

Food donations from UCL at the Marylebone Project

8 January 2021

“We’re providing meals to people who cannot afford it in one of the most expensive cities in Europe,” says Alba Le Cardinal (UCL Arts and Sciences 4).

Alba is 2020/21 project leader of #Zero Food Waste, a student volunteer project that is redistributing food waste from UCL’s cafes to The Marylebone Project, a shelter for homeless women in west London.

Teams of volunteers collect unsold, surplus food that is still safe to consume from UCL’s food outlets and deliver it to the shelter in thermal bags by Tube. The shelter offers beds, essential facilities, as well as education, employment and training opportunities, but relies on donations for food.

“We’re also reducing the food waste generated by UCL, and therefore its carbon footprint,” Alba explains. “Producing food is among the most impactful human activities, and wasting it means wasting the resources invested to produce it, such as vast areas of land, greenhouse gas emissions, and freshwater consumption. Moreover, when food is wasted, it is discarded to landfills, where it produces additional harmful greenhouse gas emissions.”

We’re providing meals to people who cannot afford it in one of the most expensive cities in Europe.

Since the project started in 2018, the students have prevented more than 3,000 meals going to waste at UCL, redistributing the surplus food to the Marylebone Project.

More than 50 students registered their interest in the project’s first year and the number of volunteers has continued to grow, reaching 120 in 2020/21. The project was on hold during the coronavirus pandemic, but the students hope to restart the COVID-19 secure deliveries once restrictions are lifted.

In addition to redistributing food, the #Zero Food Waste project organises talks on the impacts of food waste and how to prevent it. Speakers have included Tristram Stuart, food-waste campaigner and author of ‘Waste – Uncovering the Global Food Scandal’ and Delia Gadea, lead account manager of the food-sharing start-up app Olio. It also held a workshop on diet and the environment in collaboration with the UCL Climate Action and UCL Vegetarian & Vegan societies.

#Zero Food Waste UCL is one of the many initiatives supported by the Students’ Union UCL Volunteering Service, which connects students with community volunteering opportunities across London.