It’s nice to see that, once challenges are identified, sometimes we do take steps forward to address them. This is at least the purpose of the European food-waste prevention project FUSIONS (Food Use for Social Innovation by Optimizing Waste-Prevention Strategies) that was launched in 2012 and will run until 2016. Along with UK partner WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme), it tried to identify social innovation strategies that could be scaled up to prevent food waste on a larger societal level, and is implementing them right now in field trials to see whether they work, how they work, and how they could be improved.
First off, they created an inventory of all social innovation strategies connected to food waste that they could find throughout Europe, and it’s actually surprisingly huge. This might be a great starting point if you wanted to become more active in your community, too – they have examples from a great range of countries!
Initially, 39 projects submitted applications to be supported, but only 7 were chosen to actually be implemented. Let’s have a look and see what they do, shall we?
1. Surplus Food (Denmark): This website doesn’t exist yet at time of writing, but it’s intended to be a web-based service that connects providers of surplus food (producers, retailers, restaurants, catering outlets etc.) with institutions that would use it in an efficient and socially beneficial way, such as local shelters, women’s shelters, crisis and refugee centers, and the like. Their pitch: “We can prevent more food from being wasted by easing the process of food donation. Generally, there is a lack of knowledge about the rules about food donation and many companies find it to time demanding and difficult to donate. By creating a free network service, and testing new mechanisms to put food surplus donors in touch with those in need, it is possible to help those who live below the poverty line.”
2. Cr-EAT-ive Schools (Greece): They develop innovative educational tools to convince the families, educators and food service providers of pre-school children to waste less food both at home and in the food services of nursery homes and kindergartens. Their pitch: “We will prevent food waste by testing the impact of a number of collaborative actions. Firstly, changing the behavior of families by helping the parents organise their weekly menu according to the kindergarten’s menu reducing additional cooking and waste. In addition we will raise awareness amongst children on the importance of food waste minimisation and change their behavior towards food and waste at an early age with the help of their teachers through the implementation of innovative games and educational activities. Finally a stronger collaboration between food service employees, school administrators and teachers will be established, something that is crucial for the effective implementation of school behavior change programmes.”
3. Advancing Social Supermarkets (Europe): Based on the experience of existing social supermarkets in France and Austria, this project looks at the possibility of spreading this idea further across Europe. According to the pitch, “Social supermarkets are in most cases restricted to registered people in need and offer food (usually surplus food that’s been donated) for reduced prices. They often also offer a small coffee shop to foster social interaction. This is an ideal environment in which to communicate on food waste prevention, providing guidance that helps people save food and money.“
4. Food Service and Hospitality Surplus Solution (Hungary): Another project (like #1) that aims to bridge the divide between food services and food banks to connect those that have excess food with those that don’t have enough. They explain the relevance of the project thus: “The food service sector presents unique challenges in terms of food distribution given shorter timelines, more rigorous hot/cold chain requirements, additional health and safety regulations and often smaller and more diverse actors involved. This project will cover navigating the legal environment, founding new relationships, developing practical procedures, supporting donor communication and monitoring to ensure success. Guidance on the new delivery mechanism can help others target food service surplus through the food bank network. This feasibility study addresses an enormous market (the food service sector) which is currently underexploited because its unique challenges in food redistribution have not been addressed previously in a comprehensive way.“
5. Order-Cook-Pay (Sweden): This initiative will develop and trial a web-based solution that allows canteens to estimate more accurately how much of each meal to produce each day by getting in touch with their customers ex-ante. The initiators explain: “Overproduction of food in school and office canteens is caused by not knowing how many meals to prepare each day. The Order-Cook-Pay web-based solution will be trialled in a number of different types and sizes of sites in order to test the impact on waste of knowing exactly how many people will be eating in the canteen on any given day. In addition to reducing waste, it will also positively impact on energy consumption (from cooking meals that are subsequently thrown away) and help the canteen save money.”
6. Disco BoCo (France): This project aims to create fun, viral, social events where people gather, cook with and preserve discarded fruit and vegetables. This creates a stronger community network, reduces social isolation, spreads skills (e.g. about preservation) and reduces food waste at the same time. “Bottling is an excellent method way to preserve and add value to raw unsold fruit and vegetables. This (almost) forgotten know-how particularly makes sense in our modern ambiguous context of overabundance and increasing inequalities in access to quality products. By learning how to bottle food themselves, they regain control over their food supply and the power to choose healthy, safe food. The alliance of two deeply social activities – cooking and music – gathers people from every generation and social background around the pleasure of cooking and partying together and sustains social links in an area or community. Cooking itself is a great vehicle for sharing and relationship building.“
7. Gleaning Network EU (Europe): Based on experience gathered in the UK, the initiative aims to create national gleaning networks in more countries of the European Union. Gleaning encompasses the harvest of left-over produce in fields that farmers’ equipment didn’t pick up because the fruit and veg were too small or large or too irregular in size, or weren’t considered worth the effort of marketing. Thus, “the project addresses the hitherto neglected area of food wasted at farm level, estimated to be approximately 22 million tonnes a year in Europe (EC, 2003 and FAO, 2011). Gleaning Network EU disseminates best practice guidance and supports the creation of national gleaning networks to redistribute wasted fruit and vegetables from farm level to charities. The study provides a model for collaboration between growers, grassroots volunteers and charities across Europe, as well as giving specific support to groups initiating gleaning networks.“
Overall, what a great array of projects tackling every part of the food chain where food is being wasted, from field to fork! I also like the focus on collaboration and connection, using technology and social media to bring people with the same goals and the same motivation together that might just have the answer to the other person’s problems. I hope these initiatives will rapidly increase in scope!
Would you be tempted to start volunteering in one of these projects once they come off the ground?