A Wasted Future?
The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race.
So said Thomas Malthus at the end of the 18th century, and he can be forgiven for predicting global apocalypse, given that population growth looked to be accelerating very rapidly when compared with food production.
What he didn't realise was that an innovation revolution was about to happen, such things as mechanisation, nitrogen fertiliser and high yielding crops massively boosted food production, and in the rich world population growth eventually tailed off due to innovations including family planning, contraception and in the empowerment of women. A population growth spurt followed by levelling off that is now happening at various stages around the world.
But unless you haven't been paying attention, you'd be an optimist on the verge of lunacy to doubt the idea that populations have to live within their ultimately limited resource base. In recent years the growing global population has led to increased demand and soaring commodity costs as production has faltered.
Here in the UK the rising price of food and energy have already made life harder for the very poorest against a backdrop of miserable recession and higher inflation. Food and fuel poverty in Britain is growing alarmingly.
But there's also cause for optimism too. In many ways we got so good at innovating our means of production, that we got fat and lazy about what we do with it. The institute for mechanical engineers recently reported that we waste two billion tonnes of food a year - almost half of all produced in the world - one of many ways in which we throwaway and make poor use of what we have. Maybe we should now be innovating on what we have and how we use it, rather than how to make more.
At Nesta our intention is to find and support innovations that can achieve impact in reducing waste, and that can do so sustainably and either grow to achieve scale or demonstrate to others how it can be done. This is why the Centre for Challenge Prizes in partnership with the Cabinet Office launched the Waste Reduction Challenge Prize, which is intended to find ways to galvanise local people and communities as a key asset in reducing waste.
Of 30 shortlisted high quality innovations, we have now shortlisted 6 Finalists. Ideas include a 'rubbish diet' where local communities work together to become waste dieters working towards a slimmer bin, a mobile kitchen in Brixton that uses surplus food to create free meals for local communities and a museum of bad design where designers can collaborate with people in communities to improve wasteful designs. Another innovation includes a new coalition of charities that are working with big suppliers and supermarkets to redirect leftover stock to over 700 diverse charities, again using people power as volunteers. Proper Oils is an innovation working to make it easier to recycle household cooking oils, by providing households with storage vessels and community collection points, so that oils can be processed to make biodiesel. Another innovation is diverting wasted fruit and vegetables collected from farms by an army of volunteers to be made available to the most vulnerable groups in society. This is food that is 'outgraded' which means it is the wrong shape or size for supermarkets - a great illustrator of waste.
Each of the Finalists will receive funding of up to £10,000 and additional help to set up and test their innovations over the next six months. This might include prototype development and support to take existing ideas to a bigger scale. The winner will be selected in November following the test period and will receive the £50,000 prize. The winning idea will be the initiative that reduces, reuses and/or recycles the greatest level of waste by engaging communities in giving their time, skills and resources.
To find out more about these and other challenge prize Finalists see the Centre for Challenge Prizes or to find out why we think challenge prizes are going to be big this year see our predictions for 2013.