Today, almost 12 million tonnes of food are thrown away every year in Germany, most of which could have been eaten. Private German households throw away about 6.1 million tonnes of food per year. That’s about 75 kilos of food waste per person! Food waste generates 6-8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In medium and high-income countries, food is available to many of us always and everywhere. At the consumer level, we often no longer know exactly where products come from and how much work and resources are invested to produce them.
Thankfully, there are many actions we can take at the consumer level to prevent food waste. One of them is to save food directly from the bin. In this blog post, I will share with you my experience as a FOODSAVER in the Foodsharing community. Dumpster diving? Yes and no. Let’s call it a legal, authorised and more organised approach to dumpster diving.
But first, some key facts you should know about waste:
- The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that 3 billion tonnes of food is wasted every year in the world. Food losses and waste are estimated at as much as one-third of the total food produced for human consumption. According to one of their studies, much more food is wasted in the industrialised world than in developing countries. It is estimated that per inhabitant, consumers in Europe and North-America waste 95-115 kg of food per year, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa and South/Southeast Asia waste only 6-11 kg per year.
- Reducing food loss and waste is an important target of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as a means to achieve other SDG targets, in particular relating to food security, nutrition, and environmental sustainability.
- From initial agricultural production to the plate, coupled with a lack of coordination between those, food is wasted throughout all stages of the supply chain. This waste comes with environmental consequences as food production, storage, refrigeration, and transport consume large amounts of resources. These resources include water and energy but also the human workforce. And when food ends up in landfill, it produces methane – a more harmful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
- Each actor involved in the supply chain (industries, farmers, retailers, consumers) can contribute to avoiding food waste. Germany has committed itself to the United Nations goal of halving food waste by 2030. Therefore, the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture has launched the two initiatives “Too good for the bin!” and “Together active against food waste!”. These initiatives provide consumers with useful and simple tricks to reduce food waste (how to shop smarter, proper food storage, use leftovers in recipes, compost, etc.) along with other interesting facts, for instance, such explaining the difference between “minimum shelf life date” and “use-by-date”.
What is Foodsharing?
Foodsharing.de is a non-commercial, volunteer-based online platform that saves unwanted and overproduced food from small and large businesses as well as private households that would otherwise end up in the garbage. The initiative was launched in Berlin in 2012. It has since grown into an international movement with over 200.000 registered users in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The food is always given away free of charge and never sold or used as a means of exchange. Of course, foodsavers are allowed to consume the rescued goods themselves.
Thanks to good organisation, the platform has been able to create national collaboration schemes with organic supermarket chains. To allow for good collaboration, the management of these chains is directly in contact with Foodsharing because each store has its own rules and protocols. Foodsharing also works together with smaller local businesses such as bakeries, restaurants, cafés or independent shops. Lastly, collaboration also exists with weekly outdoor markets, some hotels or special events. The official website features a map with all participating shops and organisations.
What is the difference to other local food rescue organisations?
Apart from dumpster diving – retrieving still edible but unsellable products from supermarket bins, which is illegal in Germany – there are other food rescue organisations like “The Tafel” or “Too Good To Go”.
The nonprofit organisation “The Tafel” (Food Bank) with 940 Tafel in Germany is aimed at collecting food, preferably non-perishable, and making it available free or almost free of charge to the most deprived people. Whereas foodsharing allows for expired food to be distributed if it is still edible and does not pose a health risk, the Tafel only collects and hands out surplus food that hasn’t passed the expiration date. The main focus of Foodsharing is to avoid food waste, while the Tafel focuses on providing for people in need. Foodsharing is not a social (charitable) organization and makes food available to all people unconditionally.
“Too Good To Go” is a European mobile application for fighting food waste. It allows purchasing unsold food from stores and restaurants at the end of service, to prevent it from being thrown away. The food is not free of charge but is oftentimes offered in smaller quantities for pick-up, which can be more convenient for some customers. On the other hand, Foodsharing remains a volunteer-based, non-commercial, independent and advertising-free initiative but involves larger quantities of redistributed food.
Foodsharer and Foodsaver
As a member of Foodsharing, you can either be a foodsharer or a foodsaver. Anyone can be a foodsharer by creating an account on the official website. Once your profile is created, you can network with other members, post food baskets on the platform and thus give it away or pick up offered food. Here, the following rule always applies: “Only pass on what you would also eat.” All available food baskets are shown on a virtual map. This can be very handy, for example when leaving for a spontaneous trip and having too many things left in the fridge.
To collect food from cooperating businesses you have to be a foodsaver. This process takes a little longer. First, you need to be registered as a foodsharer, then take an online test to acknowledge the platform rules as well as important hygiene and behavioural rules that apply during food collection. Once you’ve passed the test, three pick-ups have to be carried out in different businesses together with a more experienced member. If these have been successful, you become a foodsaver. You will receive your membership card and ask an admin to join the teams you want to save food for. Once you’re a member of a team, you can start regularly picking up and rescuing food.
How does a food pick-up work?
Once you’ve joined a team, you have access to the team’s page which displays all team members and a dashboard with the latest information, rules and available pick-up slots. The team admins ensure regular contact with the collaborating business management and administer the team. For each pick-up day, it is possible to register in a slot. Depending on the collaborating business, the slots can vary from one person up to six people. Once you reserve a spot, you commit to collecting food on that day.
I generally save in shops around my neighbourhood by bike. I know how many bags and food containers to bring because all information can be found on the online dashboard. Shortly before closing time, another team member and I introduce ourselves with our membership card to the staff. The staff tells us what to save and we pack it all up fairly. The rule is to not leave anything behind. One evening food pick-up could mean collecting up to 50 buns, 10 sweet pastries, and leftover salad. It’s up to me to decide what I’m going to do with it, as long as it doesn’t end up in the bin!
As the quantity of rescued food is often high, it is unlikely I will eat it all by myself. That’s why I distribute them to other people (like friends, colleagues or neighbours) and mainly to associations in the surrounding area for people in need (social services, emergency accommodation, refugee shelters, etc.) The Foodsharing platform has very up-to-date online lists to know where to drop off the surplus saved food for each district. There is an extensive list of associations, but also of “Fairteiler”. These are public storage places including shelves and fridges, where everyone can help themselves to the food.
Finally, after the pick-up, I write the amount saved on the team’s dashboard and share any useful information or update the team.
In addition to making a valuable contribution to food waste prevention, Foodsharing also allows to save money and improve consumption habits such as conscious food shopping. It helps increase respect for food as well as for the farmers who produce it.
In the broader context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, FAO has published extensive research and reports on the issue of food loss and waste worth reading. FAO mentions and deplores the fact that there is still little knowledge of global food waste. However, as they rightly emphasise:
“In a world with limited natural resources (land, water, energy, fertilizer), and where cost-effective solutions are to be found to produce enough safe and nutritious food for all, reducing food losses should not be a forgotten priority.”
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