The need for us to combat food waste is urgent. According to the NHS, there are three million of us in the UK who are malnourished and yet latest figures indicate there are at least four million tonnes of food thrown away annually. If we were able to redistribute all of that, it would work out at a crazy eight billion more meals we could put on the table each year.
There is plenty happening at the business end of the scale, with food redistribution charities retrieving some of the surplus from major outlets, as well as smartphone apps helping us make wasted food in our homes available to neighbours.
Implementing big change is difficult but there are plenty of things we can do at a local level to get the ball rolling and change perceptions about what we should do with food we have. This is where community fridges can come in.
A community fridge is ideally hosted in a safe place with high footfall, where businesses and people can drop off what they won’t eat, and so allow those who need it most to get instant access. Often accompanied by a freezer as well as a community noticeboard to document everything, the community fridge means food that would go out of date and get thrown away does not go to waste. This is one of the most exciting aspects – it’s a solution to two problems.
The idea of community fridges is not new, and has seen impressive success in both Spain and Germany, prompting pilot schemes to be launched in Frome, Somerset and Swadlincote in Derbyshire.
In Swadlincote 1,388kg of food was saved and redistributed to those who need it in the last half of 2016, and this is just one town in the UK. Think about how much we could achieve if we are able to roll out more of these across the country, especially in big cities where so many would welcome an opportunity to be connected to the network.
Safety is absolutely paramount with these things though, for anyone concerned. High-risk produce such as raw meat, fish and unpasteurised milk are prohibited to prevent any potential illnesses.
In terms of setting up a community fridge in your area, charity initiatives such as Hubbub offer help and advice to anybody looking to get involved and make it happen, and the one in Swadlincote had its fridge sponsored by Bosch, so fundraising is by no means impractical. Fridges will ideally be placed in a lockable location, and under supervision whilst open, so a community garden or shop that is happy to comply would be perfect.
Local organisations can also look to link in with the initiative and cook up nutritious meals for the most vulnerable in our society.
Other than that, all you need is a handy army of willing volunteers to keep it running, and training in food hygiene and safety, which isn’t expensive or too time-consuming.
So much food waste is preventable, and we can all do something about it. Have a look in your local area to see what initiatives are already in place, and if not, start one up! We can achieve so much by working together.
Dan Gibbon-Walsh is a marketing and communications officer for the Vegetarian Society who volunteers as Manchester city champion for the Olio food sharing app, as well as helping out with FareShare Greater Manchester and Emerge Recycling