In Pernille Rask’s kitchen, everything is used and nothing is thrown away. Every Monday she and a dozen volunteers prepare 30 hot meals and a bag of fruits and vegetables that they distribute to the neediest residents of the municipality of Hørsholm, north of the Danish capital.
The potatoes, red peppers, bread to make croutons and sausages that they use for today’s menu, all of them in perfect condition for consumption, would have ended up in the trash if it weren’t for initiatives such as Mad med Hjertet (“food with the heart”). “Every day we have to be more creative, we never know what we are going to find, but we never lack for anything” explains Pernille. A year and a half ago this local initiative began with the aim of taking advantage of the immense amount of food that was wasted in the supermarkets and restaurants of the municipality, as well as providing support to people in vulnerable situations. Rask gives an example: “At Christmas the owner of a supermarket called us because he was going to throw away 400 liters of milk that is still suitable for consumption, unfortunately we still do not have the capacity to take advantage of all the food, but we tried”.RELATED
Every year in Denmark they throw away 700,000 tons of food that would have been been able to take advantage, mainly in homes (36% of the total) and in supermarkets (23%). According to data from the Danish Ministry of Agriculture, every day for a year 9,730 shopping carts could be filled with wasted food. Fresh fruits and vegetables represent 41% of the food that is wasted, something paradoxical, since they are often imported from southern Europe or other parts of the world, leaving a significant footprint in CO2 emissions, in addition to not be inexpensive for the pocket of consumers.
Food waste is not a problem unique to the Scandinavian country. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), between a third and a half of the food produced worldwide ends up being wasted, and affects both rich and poorer countries on the planet. In Europe, each year 88 million tons of food end up decomposing in landfills, which produces approximately 227 tons of Co2 and other gases, almost the equivalent of all the fossil fuel emissions that Spain emits in a year.
In recent years Denmark has taken important steps to reduce food waste with the launch of more initiatives than in any other country. In fact, the Nordic country can teach the world how to deal with the problem, since in six years has managed to reduce food waste by 25% and it has the ambition to reach 50% in 2030.
Without a doubt, one of the people who has most actively contributed to shaking consciences to stop this ecological disaster has been the activist Selina Juul. The Russian-born graphic designer came to Denmark at the age of 13 and tells how she was amazed to see the abundance of food in supermarkets. With his first job in a bakery, he says that “he saw how much bread they were forced to throw away every day, simply because it did not look the best.” In 2008, he opened a Facebook page with the name Stop Spild af Mad (brake on food waste, in Danish) where he posted advice and reflections to avoid wasting food at home. Since then, Juul has managed to meet with government authorities, food industry producers and managers of the main supermarket chains to raise awareness about the problem and find solutions: “I started as an angry consumer making a complaint through the networks, but this is a small country and immediately the subject caught the interest of the media and I was able to spread the message “explains Juul.
After just three months, Rema 1000, the country’s second-largest supermarket chain, contacted Juul and withdrew all 2×1 offers from its stores. Instead, it offered significant discounts on products that were approaching the recommended consumption date. “Now it is a measure that the whole sector has adopted, but 12 years ago it was a real change of mentality” explains Anders Jensen, Marketing Director of the chain. On the shelves of its stores you can find apple juice made with the fruits that have been left over from the gardens of private houses, smaller packages of bread that do not force to throw out half when it dries, or fruits and vegetables that were not previously they would have put up for sale for looking “bad.” The chain of Norwegian origin, It also has agreements with all kinds of initiatives to donate and take advantage of the food that they cannot sell
The stores WeFood They are one of the places where you can find at a good price everything that supermarkets have not been able to sell. “We are the first chain of stores in the country of this type” explains Birgitte Sørensen, responsible for the project. In them, the sliced bread that would cost 30 Danish crowns, here is sold for 10. “The idea is that customers come to us to buy basic foods such as rice, potatoes or coffee, and then they already buy the rest in conventional supermarkets “Sørensen adds. It further states that in 2020 they have sold 238 tons of food that, otherwise, would have been thrown away.
Both Jensen and Sørensen agree that a change of mentality is needed in the industry and in the supermarket customers, “we have to ask ourselves, do we need to offer six different types of chicken cuts or eight types of cheeses?” Jensen muses. “The industry has spoiled consumers, who demand to have a lot of variety at all times,” says Sørensen.
Another initiative that has emerged is the popular Danish app To Good To Go which allows users to buy bags of leftover food from restaurants and supermarkets at an unbeatable price as closing time approaches. From the company DakaRefood, unused food is also recycled in kitchens like those of the Comwell hotel chain, and transformed into renewable green energy. In three years the company claims to have generated enough energy to supply the heating of a home for two million days, and to have saved 55 million kilos of Co2.
However, on the Instagram account An Urban Harvester, by activist Matt Homewood, we can see that too many kilos of food are still thrown away. “One autumn night I took my raincoat, gloves, a headlamp, and my bicycle and went to investigate the containers in the supermarkets in my neighborhood in Copenhagen,” says Homewood. “What I found was a real treasure, blueberries from South Africa, bananas from Central America, Chilean lemons and kilos of Danish pork, all in perfect condition because of how cold it was,” he recalls. His latest posts on social media show mountains of food thrown away, 157 packages of bacon, 800 fresh organic eggs, or 300 tetrabriks of cooking cream, “and I only take what I can carry with my bike, because there is much more, “he says.
For Homewood, the initiatives that exist in the country today are not enough, since they only manage to reduce too small a percentage of the total food that is wasted. The activist has his recipes: “It is necessary to update the legislation on the expiration dates of products, a change of mentality in consumers, cook more, and move away from supermarkets to get closer to local producers” he lists. “With current technology and environmental awareness, I see a lot of potential to be able to make these changes in the coming years,” he says.