Fighting Food Waste With Social Initiatives
The endeavour to reduce the food that gets wasted or lost across the supply chain is growing and diversifying each year. More communities, governments and companies are becoming aware of the scale of the problem and its consequences. Tackling this issue does more than avoid one-third of globally produced food being lost or wasted - it directly targets the greenhouse gases associated with the production and decomposition of the surplus food, reduces the burden on waste management systems, and addresses food insecurity. This map highlights some of the social initiatives around the globe taking encouraging and creative steps to ensure that food ends up being eaten and enjoyed.1
Ghana: Food for All Africa is West Africa’s first and largest community food redistribution organization in Ghana. Through its ‘food banking’ model it collects food in locations with surplus and distributes it through food drives to vulnerable groups. The concept of the organization is to have ‘fun whilst getting involved in the fight against hunger’, and to provide a platform for retailers, wholesalers and growers to recover and redistribute edible surplus food.
Kenya: Twiga Foods connects different actors in the food chain by providing an organized marketplace. The platform connects thousands of food outlets with fresh produce and processed food suppliers (farmers and vendors) on a daily basis. According to Twiga Foods, the efficiency, transparency, and minimalism of their network has aided members in Kenya to reduce their post-harvest losses from 30 percent to as low as 4 percent.
Nigeria: Chowberry is a platform aiming to create a decentralized, just, and self-sustaining food system. Through the Chowberry app, individuals and organizations become informed about products in nearby grocery stores that are close to their expiration date which they can then choose to purchase at a discounted price. Among other projects, they have also developed Chowberries nutrition bites, made with local staples such as cassava and rice and wrapped in special edible packaging which extends their shelf life and adds to their nutritious qualities.
South Africa: NOSH Food Rescue NPC has already rescued 847 tonnes of food (in 15 months!) from going to landfill - equivalent to a herd of 120 elephants - by collecting food from retailers, farmers, hotels, and then repurposing and redistributing it into a network of chefs and kitchens that feed communities. If the food is not fit for human use, the organization brings it to animal farms, making sure nothing goes to waste. At the beginning of COVID-19, alongside other organizations, NOSH Food Rescue created Chefs with Compassion, a project consisting of different canteens and restaurants making thousands of meals a week for those in need during this time.
Uganda: Sparky. After seeing family members losing significant parts of their harvests in storage, Lawrence Okettayot engineered a food dehydrator that is powered by biofuels such as garden trimmings, leaves, or grass. The Sparky drier, as he named it, addresses the issue of fruit and vegetable loss by providing an alternative for small local communities that extends the shelf life of fresh produce from days to years.
Bangladesh: Cartons for Good is an initiative that buys food unsold during harvest time, cooks meals and stores them into special carton packs that preserve them for months without refrigeration. The meals are then put into a mobile food unit and are transported to different farming regions. By collaborating with Bangladesh’s biggest NGO, Cartons for Good’s meals will be used to provide school meals for underprivileged children.
India: No Food Waste is a project serving the remaining foods from weddings, parties, and other events to underprivileged communities. There is a hotline number that can be called in order to have a minivan (called “Foodiva”) come to collect the food. The food is then sampled for quality and freshness and quickly transported to nearby distribution locations (also called ‘Hunger Spots’).
Pakistan: Rizq, Pakistan’s first food redistribution model, was started by three university friends. Since 2015, counting on 720 volunteers, the organization has saved more than 30,000kg of food (worth more than $85,000), distributed more than 150,000 meals, and fed 200 families a day. With their customized rickshaw bikes, Rizq collects food around the city and brings it to the food bank where individuals pay a minimal price for the meal or get it for free. The organization has two locations in the country but is looking to bring food security into every major food insecure area of Pakistan.
South Korea: Composting Laws. In 1995, a policy introducing a volume-based fee (VBF) waste system, or ‘pay as you throw’ came into place in Seoul. More recently, in 2013, a law was established requiring food waste to be discarded in biodegradable bags, and a per-household fee is charged based on the weight of the waste which covers the cost of running the scheme. The recycled food then comes animal feed or organic fertilizer.2
Taiwan: The World Vegetable Center carries out global research, forms networks, and executes training and promotion activities to raise awareness of the role of vegetables for better health and global poverty alleviation. Some of their present work includes ameliorating consumption, composting, and waste reduction. They do this by focusing on breeding improved vegetable lines, developing and promoting safe production practices, reducing postharvest losses, and enhancing the nutritional value of vegetables.
Denmark: Too Good to Go. After saving one first meal in Copenhagen in 2016, this project went on to engage more than 18 million users around Europe and 38,000 different restaurants, supermarkets, hotels, and other food venues into rescuing food. By typically selling a ‘Magic bag’ filled with discounted food products that are otherwise thrown away, the mobile App has saved 29 million meals (more than 72,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions!) in its first 3.5 years.
France: Food Waste Prevention Legislation (Loi Garot). In 2016, France became the first country to pass legislation banning large grocery shops from throwing away food. The law requires supermarkets to have systems in place for donating unsold food products to partnering charities, with the objective of halving retail food waste by 2025.3
Germany: SirPlus. This grocery store, working closely with the food industry, receives donations or buys food close to the sell-by date from diverse suppliers and sells it at a very discounted price. If the store’s warehouse becomes full, food is donated to local charities.
Greece: Sustainable Food Movement. Founded in 2017, this social enterprise tackles food waste and promotes sustainability in the gastronomy and tourism industries, after noticing how the latter has shaped national food production and waste. The movement aims to “re-activate the appreciation for traditional techniques and consumption habits”. They train and specialize professionals in sustainable gastronomy and encourage business executives and restaurateurs to adopt more sustainable operation models.
Italy: Last Minute Market, a social enterprise founded in 1998, links retailers, shops, and producers with individuals and organizations in need of food, medicines and a host of other non-food goods. Businesses with excess food are encouraged to donate it to the market to be given to those in need. The project is running in more than 40 Italian towns and is expanding to Argentina and Brazil.
The Netherlands: Kromkommer was founded by three college students after they became aware of the number of fruits and vegetables that are discarded because of appearance or overproduction. The company started by turning the aesthetically unconventional produce into soups but currently it focuses on changing the perception young generations have about unaesthetic produce through educational projects, toys, and books.
Serbia: With the aim to ‘generate more value from what is considered unusable for further exploitation, EkoFungi was born in 2003. Through their “waste to taste” approach, the company uses local organic waste as a substrate to grow mushrooms with.
Slovakia: Free Food. What started as a movement introducing public refrigerators where people could leave and take food from during a film festival developed into a multi-project NGO. These projects range from making marmalade from fruit that is aesthetically unfit for supermarkets, to pushing for legislation changes that facilitate donating surplus food. They also research food waste in Europe and highlight other organizations working on this issue through interviews in a series called Food Heroes.
Spain: A pilot project launched by Emamesa uses methane from the orange juice of the sour oranges that fall on the streets of Seville - which currently has around 50,000 orange trees, the European record- to power the city’s treatment plant.4
Salvacomidas. This organisation started off with a solidarity COVID-19 action, where healthy “school” meals that would have otherwise been thrown away were distributed to families that were struggling economically. Alongside these meals, educational cards were provided to learn about healthy eating habits through a playful approach. Since then, Salvacomidas have undertaken two other projects: “Another Huerto'', where children, through games and activities, are taught about food and growing their own vegetables, and Robin Food, an initiative launched in Belgium which prepares nourishing meals using surplus to give to vulnerable communities.
United Kingdom: Feeding the 5000, in their own words, organize “public feasts to showcase the delicious solutions to food waste”. These events, started by the campaign group Feedback, are centered around cooking up meals made entirely out of food that would have been thrown away and serving these to crowds of 5000 people. The public of these feasts generally consist of stakeholders in the (anti) Food Waste movement and local politicians, which engage in conversations and activities to tackle the problem of food waste while tasting its solution.
United States: ReFED is a collaboration of businesses, nonprofits, foundations, and different government levels that came together to analyze the problem of food waste and develop practical solutions. Their report highlighted 27 of the most cost-effective ways to reduce food waste based on societal economic value, business profit potential, and other non-financial impacts.
Lean Path. Used by companies like Google and canteens all over the world, is a software that encourages kitchens to take control of their food waste through integrated scales and tracker systems. When finding out exactly what and how much they waste, most companies using these services act upon it and prevent up to 50% of it.
Mexico: Disco Sopa is a citizen initiative that ‘recycles’ otherwise thrown away foods in an amicable ambiance while enjoying live music. Volunteers search for and recollect foods in Mexico City and then, in a public space, the foods get cooked and served to anyone that wants at no cost (and with live music in the background!).5
Bahamas: Hands for Hunger. With a vision of a food-secure Bahamas, this NGO rescues and distributes food that would otherwise be wasted, leads educational and political campaigns, and forms partnerships between different sectors of the archipelago’s community.
Central and South-America
Guatemala: Random Impact. This project uses organic waste from homes and restaurants to feed cockroaches that are then turned into protein powder for animal feed and human foods, addressing the circular disposal of waste as well as sustainable protein sources.6
Brazil: Satisfeito is a movement tackling food waste and child hunger by, on the one hand, proposing food-waste prevention techniques to restaurants, and on the other, offering dishes (called ‘Satisfeito Dishes’) in participating restaurants that engage customers to consume consciously. These dishes, identified by the Satisfeito logo next to them, consist of two-thirds of the portion of the normal dishes, with the value of the other one-third being donated to fight child hunger.
Argentina: The Wiolit initiative has developed software that optimizes the menu in canteens, allowing users to choose their dish in advance to avoid overproduction while at the same time gathering data about food preferences. The result is a reduction of up to 51% of the waste produced in food services such as school canteens.
Ecuador: Idónea, a non-profit project, rescues food thrown away in markets and other establishments. With the help of volunteers and chefs, Idónea offers two free meals every month in different restaurants in Quito.7
Australia: FareShare. As their tagline ‘Rescue. Cook. Feed.’ suggests, FareShare is a multi-operation NGO. A fleet of vans starts off by collecting perishable surplus food from multiple suppliers. Next, this food is transformed into nutritious food (curries, pastas, casseroles, soups, tagines…) by volunteers; around 12,000 meals are cooked every day! Finally, the prepared meals are distributed to people across Australia experiencing food poverty through food banks, homeless shelters, women’s refuges and other charities.
New Zealand: Kiwi Harvest works with food businesses such as supermarkets and hotels to rescue the good food that they are not able to sell because of oversupply, damaged packaging, canceled orders or mislabelling. Up to 200,000 surplus food gets rescued by Kiwi Harvest every month and diverted back to struggling communities who find it harder to have access to fresh foods. The organization is also involved in politics, advocating for a change in strategies towards food waste, educational programmes and business engagements.