The European Commission estimates that 100 million tonnes of food are wasted annually in the European Union. This could rise to 120 million tonnes by 2020.
Changing the behaviour of Households
The UN and the World Resources Institute recently warned that “about one-third of all food produced worldwide, worth around US$1 trillion, gets lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems.” For example, in Vienna, the amount of food wasted every day would suffice to feed a smaller city such as Innsbruck or Salzburg.
According to a Eurostat project published in 2015, the wholesale and retail trades were responsible only for 7% of overall food waste, while the cooking facilities connected with schools, hospitals, or hotels accounted for just 5 % of all waste. The biggest food wasters were individual households. Their disposal of untouched food amounted to 49% of all the waste. The public fridges are meant to challenge this situation.
Sharing instead of wasting
From time to time, everybody realises that there is food in the fridge that he or she will not be able to eat before expiration. Instead of throwing it away, the food could be shared. This is where the public fridges come in. The devices may be filled with donated, untouched food, which can be taken by people in need, students or simply other visitors who need a particular item for a recipe. The costs of opening a public fridge are minimal – just the device and a place where it can stand accessibly.
Increasing passion for the fridges
The idea of public fridges has been supported enthusiastically, e.g. in the Czech Republic. The first public fridge was opened in the city of České Budějovice, South Bohemia, on 7th October 2015, next to a local café. The project, organized by students, has so far helped local people to exchange fruit, vegetable, jams, sweets, yoghurts, and other types of food. Another public fridge opened in Plzeň (Pilsen) two months afterwards. And finally, two public fridges opened in March, 2016 in Prague, while volunteers in many other cities, towns, and suburbs are considering opening their own fridges. Such success has inspired people all over the Czech Republic to establish conceptually similar places for sharing clothes or books.
What to “calm down”?
The sharing is facilitated by social media which are available to announce what is currently in the fridge on that particular day, attracting the attention of the wider public and educating fridge users. Not all food is actually suitable for sharing. The fridge may accommodate food that recently passed its expiration date, but donated food cannot be rotten or in any way decayed. Moreover, eggs must be kept out of the fridges since they may cause bacterial contamination, similar to some varieties of fruit, especially exotic fruit. Finally, big bottles with beverages should be left next to the fridge, as they would occupy too much space inside.
Surplus supermarket and sharing mania
The Czech volunteers are the latest arrivals in a worldwide family of bottom-up instigators of food-sharing, who are taking initiatives to combat the wasting of food. In February of 2016, a supermarket was opened in Copenhagen that sells the surplus food from other supermarkets and suppliers that would otherwise be wasted. The food is discounted up to 50%, and the Danish crown princess attended the opening. Managers of the project hope to cut down the waste of 700,000 tonnes of food in Denmark each year. French legislation proposes that groceries should not dispose of expired food, but use it for charity purposes instead. A genuine leader in public fridges is Berlin, where 25 public fridges are in service and another dozens of locations facilitate or intermediate food-sharing. The project dates back to the year 2012, when the site foodsharing.de was launched. Today it has around 110,000 online supporters.
To share or not to share?
Such a big project is not entirely unproblematic. Some people are hesitant to take the leftovers abandoned by strangers. Also, German public authorities criticized the hygienic conditions of the fridges this February and pointed out related health risks for the consumers of shared food. The organizers of the project claimed, in response, that public fridges should not be held to the same hygienic standards as commercial enterprises. The petition supporting the preservation of public fridges exceeded 16,000 signatures and aims at 20,000, which proves that the project is still gaining support and momentum.