Food Waste Management In Europe? Dumpster-diving Meals Are Here To Stay

When we arrived at Robin Food the smell of carrot soup pervaded the air. Buzzy atmosphere, open kitchen, colourful paintings and walls, high ceiling and a cheerful dog wandering around with a melon in mouth. The first experience at the Guerrilla Kitchen, a collective run by volunteers in Amsterdam, was quite eye-opening.

The idea is pretty simple to grasp. First you find a seat and wait until for the food to arrive. Starter (the carrot soup), main course and dessert are all made from ingredients that were meant to end up at the backyard dumpsters of supermarkets and restaurants. The volunteers, experts of dumpster-diving themselves, decided that the wasted food was way too much to keep it only for them so they started sharing it.

At the end donations are welcome bearing though in mind that money end up at the Bellies Beyond Borders, a food waste mobile kitchen that travelled to the Greek-Macedonian border and is now offering warm meals to refugees.

Dumpster-diving is a popular trend in the Netherlands. Many individuals have realized that the amount of food that ends up at the garbage bins is extreme and decided to give to it a second chance. One step further, activist groups like the Guerrilla Kitchen organize free meals and Voku nights using ingredients that they get after agreements with chain supermarkets and restaurants. Despite the unofficial efforts up until now there is no government strategy in the country addressing food waste.

The problem though prevails and comes out of top all over Europe. According to the official page of European Commission around 100 million tonnes of food are wasted annually in the EU with the amount expected to reach up to 120 million tones by 2020 if no action is taken. The global figures are even more breathtaking. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation around 1.3 billion tonnes, equivalent to one third of total consumption, remain unconsumed annually. Although the food loss is similar to both developing and industrialised countries, food waste occurs mainly at retail and consumer level in the developed world.

The western obsession with expiry dates, perfect portion size and food appearance contributes greatly to the problem. Many governments start taking action in order to manage efficiently their food supplies. Italy is committed to reduce its food waste that costs the economy €12 billion a year. It recently became the second country of the European Union to introduce a series of legislations that intend to bring to a halt food waste in the Mediterranean country.

Instead of throwing away leftovers, Italy wants to motivate businesses that sell food to donate their leftovers to charities. The bill, met with wide bilateral support, wishes to reward business owners with generous tax cuts on waste disposal, depending on how much they manage to give away. All food donated by businesses rather than being wasted it at garbage bins has to be recorded so the tax break will be easy to implement.

The bill already passed the Lower House last week and is currently under discussion by the Senate. If it is accepted and properly implemented it will manage to effectively tackle waste and recover tons in nourishing and perfectly edible food for the needy.

While Italy seeks to reward business owners, France was the first country in the world to vote in favour of a bill last February that forces grocery stores to donate their “extra” food to charities and food banks.

The French government attempts to combat food waste by punishing supermarkets and restaurants who throw away unsold food with a hefty fine of € €3,750. Before the legislation comes into force supermarkets had deliberately spoiled food by dousing binned food in bleach or storing it in warehouses in order to stop people from collecting it from the stores’ bins. Now supermarkets with a footprint of 400 sq metres or more have to sign donation contracts with charities and food banks are obliged to collect and stock the food in properly hygienic conditions.

Through these latest bills, legislators in both countries aim for the same outcome: cutting down on damaging effects of food waste even if it comes to the alarming toll of hunger and the environmental impact by landfill emissions or if it is about the financial cost of disposing food. The movement spreading like a positive contagious virus will hopefully take over the rest of Europe. Until then grassroots initiatives like Guerrilla Kitchen will hopefully continue to serve delicious meals.

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