Ex-maths teacher tackles food waste by giving away unwanted groceries and multiplies her output from 400 portions last December to 1,000 this month

·6-min read

An ex-maths teacher has found a brilliant equation for tackling food waste by giving provisions bound for the bin away free and hopes to multiply her output from 400 portions last December to 1,000 this month.

When Susan Newton, 58, retired from teaching in September 2020 she had amazing travel plans with her husband Peter, 56, also a retired teacher – with trips in the pipeline to Sri Lanka, America and Mexico.

But the winter Covid lockdown saw everything cancelled and, with time on her hands, Susan, of Westgate-on –Sea, Kent, whose daughter Megan, 24, is a geophysicist and whose son James, 21, is a student, discovered zero food waste app Olio.

Susan’s children, Megan and James, even help with her OLIO collections during the Christmas break (Collect/PA Real Life).
Susan’s children, Megan and James, even help with her OLIO collections during the Christmas break (Collect/PA Real Life).

In December 2020 alone Susan, who signed up to become a food waste hero – distributing surplus supplies from supermarkets to people who want them within the community – gave away 400 portions in a month.

Working tirelessly and only taking Christmas Day as holiday, she is repeating the experience this year, saying: “It’s really good fun.

“Last Christmas I distributed 400 portions of food to my community. But this year, I’ve done my sums, and I think I will at least double that.”

Susan collects unwanted food from her local Tesco Express three days a week (Collect/PA Real Life).
Susan collects unwanted food from her local Tesco Express three days a week (Collect/PA Real Life).

She added: “I think it’ll probably be nearer 1,000 portions I will have saved from the bin.”

A huge fan of Christmas, Susan is delighted to be feeding into the festive spirit by volunteering, as well as doing her bit for the planet.

But it is not quite the retirement from a demanding secondary school career that she had planned.

“Peter and I wanted to go travelling and enjoy our retirement,” said Susan.

“We wanted to go abroad and also to visit friends in this country, but when all the pandemic changes came in a lot of things got cancelled.

“We had a holiday to Sri Lanka booked that was cancelled and one to America and Mexico, which was also cancelled.”

Susan gets the whole family involved in organising the collections including her daughter, Megan, pictured here(Collect/PA Real Life).
Susan gets the whole family involved in organising the collections including her daughter, Megan, pictured here(Collect/PA Real Life).

But redistributing unwanted food free to grateful recipients in her community has given Susan great pleasure.

“I first saw OLIO on a money saving website while I was still working and thought it was a good idea,” she said.

“I didn’t do anything about it then.”

Susan says her collectors are so generous and have even gifted her cuttings from their gardens (Collect/PA Real Life).
Susan says her collectors are so generous and have even gifted her cuttings from their gardens (Collect/PA Real Life).

She added: “Once I actually retired it came up on my phone and I thought, ‘I’m going to go through with it.’

“I started collecting food from the local Tesco Express. It was during lockdown, so there was no contact. I mainly just chatted to people through the app and left a box with their items outside the front door.

“It was such good fun that I got hooked and quickly tripled my collections.”

And when the December 2020 lockdown came into full force, being a food waste hero gave Susan a perfect way to feel like part of her community – helping people to get through the unusual and often lonely festive period.

“It’s great chatting to people, even when it’s only through the app,” she said.

“Some collectors were picking things up from OLIO and then putting the money they would have spent aside to save for a treat for the family.”

Susan’s OLIO collection (Collect/PA Real Life).
Susan’s OLIO collection (Collect/PA Real Life).

She added: “It was such a good idea for Christmas.

“I really enjoyed regularly going out and doing something and engaging with other people in some way.”

Her history as a maths teacher has also helped her to be very organised, as she put together collections for over 50 regulars and up to 200 people in total.

Susan loves the sense of the community from OLIO, and has even been gifted plant cuttings from her collectors for her garden (Collect/PA Real Life).
Susan loves the sense of the community from OLIO, and has even been gifted plant cuttings from her collectors for her garden (Collect/PA Real Life).

“I pick up my collections at 9pm,” she said.

“I stay up until just after midnight for the fresh bits to be picked up and then in the morning start getting everything ready for more collectors.

“My teaching background has helped. I’ve got 200 index cards and when someone makes a request, I take their index card out and stick it in a plastic wallet on top of a plastic box outside.”

She added: “It’s my own little filing system.”

Currently collecting on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, she has received some touching gifts from people she distributes to and has also been able to keep some produce.

She said: “Occasionally, we’ll keep some of the stuff I collect.”

Susan enjoys brining Christmas cheer to her community by being a food waste hero in December (Collect/PA Real Life).
Susan enjoys brining Christmas cheer to her community by being a food waste hero in December (Collect/PA Real Life).

She added: “I kept a red cabbage from my last collection, as we’re visiting friends this week and having an early Christmas lunch.

“People also give me things to say thank you. I’ve been given cuttings from people’s gardens, which is lovely.

“One collector also made me ginger biscuits because she collected some ginger from me. It’s such a lovely way of furthering the ethos of OLIO and passing things on.”

Susan collects unwanted food from local supermarkets (Collect/PA Real Life).
Susan collects unwanted food from local supermarkets (Collect/PA Real Life).

Susan, who only downs tools on Christmas Day, has even roped her husband and two children into volunteering when they have come home for the festivities.

“I do my collections all through December,” said Susan.

“I break for Christmas but will keep collecting until then. My husband Peter is really good, he helps me sort everything out.”

Susan distributed 400 portions of food in December 2020(Collect/PA Real Life).
Susan distributed 400 portions of food in December 2020(Collect/PA Real Life).

She added: “My two children, Megan and James, are grown up now, but when they’re home, they help as well.”

Susan and her family are now looking forward to a well-earned rest on December 25.

She said: “We’ll all have a break on Christmas Day. We have a big meal and spend the afternoon playing board games.”

Susan picks up great festive treats to give away for free from her local Tesco (Collect/PA Real Life).
Susan picks up great festive treats to give away for free from her local Tesco (Collect/PA Real Life).

While she is planning a break in January, after the festive rush, she then plans to return to her duties as a food waste hero soon after that.

“I really love it,” she said.

“You speak to people you wouldn’t normal run into.”

She added: “And while I’ll have a nice break in January, I won’t stay away from OLIO for too long.”

To become a food waste hero go to www.olioex.com

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting