“To change the world, you have to throw a better party than those destroying it.”
So say Toast Ale, who brew award-winning beer using surplus bread. Inspired by the the Brussels Beer Project, Tristram Stuart founded Toast in 2015. Tristram is an award-winning author and campaigner, who also set up the charity Feedback which aims to halve food waste by 2025. Toast brewed their first batch of ale in Hackney, London, with the aim of producing a beer that could help to tackle bread waste on an industrial level.
Currently the UK wastes around 15 million tonnes of food annually. Nearly half of all bread produced in the UK is thrown away, with more being donated to charities and food banks. Supermarket bread is a poor cousin to the real stuff, produced in factories on a huge scale to meet the expectation that shelves will always be full. Sandwich manufacturers don’t use the end, crust, slices for their products so these are thrown out. Inevitably these practises mean waste, though the figure of 44% is mind-boggling. We also waste vast quantities in our homes – 24 million slices of bread every day – simply because we buy too much. Consumer expectation feeds industry practise which feeds consumer expectation.
Toast currently source the end slices of loaves that aren’t used for sandwiches, from Adelie foods. Adelie donate and deliver this waste bread, which would otherwise cost them to get rid of. The bread is then broken up in a shredder, and used in the beer brew replacing a third of the malted barley. Carbohydrates in the bread are turned into simple sugars by enzymes, and then into alcohol by the yeast. Toast also collaborate with smaller breweries around the UK, where the bread comes from bakers who are local to the brewer. In addition to a contribution to Toast, the local breweries will donate a share of their profits.
Although not yet profitable as a business, Toast have pledged that all profits, when they appear, will go to the Feedback charity, thus using the process to tackle not just wasted bread, but food waste as a whole.
“We’d love to put ourselves out of business – the day there’s no waste bread, we’ll no longer have a need to exist. [We] prioritise redistribution of surplus. When we source bread from sandwich makers and bakeries, we check if the bread could be given to food charities instead. Often there is more surplus bread than charities can take and it’s difficult to transport and store food that is perishable. Only when this is not possible do we take the bread to make into beer.”
To help tackle bread waste in the home, Toast have made their recipe available for the home brewer.
“The resurgence in home-brewing, reflecting the huge growth in the craft beer market, means we can all get involved. We waste huge amounts of bread in our homes and not everyone wants to make bread and butter pudding.”
They hope to have a greater indirect impact by creating a social enterprise model that reinvests all profits in ending food waste through funding Feedback’s campaigning work. They are inspiring other businesses to see value in ‘waste’, and have seen many companies move into this area, including bread beer in particular, and expect some big players to do so this year. Toast also hope that greater consumer awareness, driven by themselves, other businesses, and Feedback’s campaigning, will lead to greater pressure for change.
This change is already beginning. Celebrity chefs have taken up the cause, bringing it more into the public eye, and the supermarkets are reacting. Tesco has pledged that no edible food will go to waste by March 2018. If the industry doesn’t go far enough, there will be government pressure for them to do so (a select committee has already made recommendations for changes). Though this is by no means a full solution.
“Of course, we have to ensure the problem is not just exported – currently huge amounts of waste occurs in the supply chain due to cosmetic standards set by supermarkets. We’ll be watching and Toasting achievements whilst continuing to support efforts to expose and change bad practices.”
Toast’s thinking around food waste and sustainability also informs other aspects of their business and brewing.
“We’ve tried to make our production process as environmentally friendly as possible. Our brewery partner has onsite wind turbines that power the brewery, a bore hole to extract water, and sources barley from local farms. The spent grain goes to animal feed rather than landfill. However, glass bottles remain after the beer has been enjoyed. We encourage people to recycle at home. In the UK, we recycle 60% of our glass – we’d love that to be 100% for Toast and would like to see a deposit scheme introduced. We have also started kegging. Soon you’ll be able to enjoy a pint (or half) in your local without any glass bottles being involved (and the kegs are re-used).”
Toast are strong believers in the importance of making the world a better place – tackling environmental destruction and social inequality – with a positive attitude.
“People will only change their behaviours if the alternatives are more appealing. We think we’ve found a way of doing something really positive whilst having fun, and we want to share that with the world.”
Find Toast Ale on Twitter here.