An accomplished Lisbon-born design strategist has become a main driving force behind a new project currently being implemented in London, which aims to build a bridge between the city’s surplus food and the charities that feed the hungry, reducing food wastage in the process.
Plan Zheroes’ main mission is to identify businesses such as hotels, restaurants and cafés that have surplus food and to make them known to the charities that could use that food to feed the needy.
This is done using an online map which locates the providers and the recipients, building a bridge between the two.
It also aims to promote the plan’s ‘Zheroes’ – or ‘heros of zero food waste’ – which to the project’s mentors are “restaurants, food retailers, catering companies, institutions, who serve, sell, buy, distribute food, and have found ways to give their surplus food to people (as opposed to throwing it away or sending it to incinerators).”
Describing herself as an “entrepreneurial, idea-driven systems thinker as well as a design strategist”, Maria Ana Neves is CEO of Plan Zheroes and one of several creative thinkers spearheading the project, which was founded by inspirational 87-year-old War Hero and Austrian Aristocrat Lotti Henley.
Henley, whose family’s wealth and possessions were pillaged by the communists during the Second World War, is herself no stranger to hunger, having been forced to find food in bins during the six-year conflict.
“That experience shaped my whole life and I have never taken food for granted since. This was the motivation behind my new campaign Plan Zheroes”, she told the London Sustainable Development Commission, which selected her as a London Leader in 2011.
“It appals me to see the amount of food we waste in this city on a daily basis. Plan Zheroes aims to inspire food retailers and catering businesses to stop sending their waste food to landfill and, instead, donate it to charities that support the homeless and those on low incomes”, she explained.
Figures from the London Sustainable Development Commission indicate that approx-imately 6.5million tonnes of food and drink is wasted a year by the UK’s food supply chain, valued at £17 billion.
Within the hospitality sector specifically, in 2009, 1.5million tonnes of waste was sent to landfill with a carbon impact of 4million tonnes of CO2 equivalent; £724 million of this was avoidable food waste.
Reports in the British press exposing the UK’s food wastage only served as further ammunition to fuel the fire in Plan Zheroes’ belly, as did findings from the Greater London Authority, which proved hunger exists in the British capital.
“There are entire families that don’t have access to food”, explains Maria Ana Neves, who has lived and worked in the UK for 11 years.
The Plan Zheroes project follows three main lines of action: finding and indentifying potential donors and recipients of surplus food; influencing mentalities, and finding solutions so that the food is not thrown away.
“There are lots of companies that want to donate their surplus food but don’t know how to. People generally want to donate, but I was surprised by the difficulties that the charities face in receiving the food”, Maria Neves told The Portugal News.
Having been granted financing from the Royal Society of Arts and with help from the Mapping for Change organisation, the Plan Zheroes map is now coming up to its second year of service, having been launched in February 2012.
“We are still measuring its impact but we have quite a lot of evidence that there are set-ups benefitting from this project and many ‘zero food waste’ companies are giving their surplus food, so those are fantastic indicators”, Maria Ana stresses.
The project’s next goal, according to 58-year-old management consultant Paul Corney, one of Plan Zheroes’ founding trustees, is to “see if it will work outside London.”
Thanks to it being technology-based he has “great belief that the project could be transferrable globally.”
Corney, who has a home in Lisbon and regularly visits Portugal, adds: “There are people making heat-or-eat decisions just around the corner from places that are throwing food out. In the world we live in, that has got to be wrong. And if there is anything that we can do to help each other then we should be doing it.”