What can the UK learn from Switzerland’s food waste initiative?


food waste

Philip Simpson, commercial director at ReFood, explores an innovative new food waste initiative being trialled in Switzerland and discusses whether or not the UK should follow suit.

As part of a non-profit initiative running across Geneva, public refrigerators are being placed along streets to prevent surplus food generated by restaurants from going to waste. From fruit and vegetables to bread and other fresh produce, residents are encouraged to take what they need at no onward cost.

Organised by the community group Free-Go, the programme is helping to successfully divert perfectly edible food waste away from landfill, while also feeding the hungry. Said to cost around $40,000 to run every year, funding is provided by private groups, as well as the city government.

The non-profit initiative is running across Geneva.

On average, food lasts less than an hour in the refrigerators, before being removed, prepared and eaten. In some instances, queues have formed hours before deliveries have even taken place. So far during the trial, just 3% of the produce handled has been binned, with figures continuing to decline in line with rising awareness.

Over the coming months, additional sites are set to be added, with an ever-increasing number of shops and restaurants signing up to join the scheme. Already, the city government has branded the initiative a resounding success.

At ReFood, we applaud Free-Go’s creative initiative. Any campaign or programme that reduces waste, redistributes edible produce and prevents valuable resources from ending up in landfill should be wholeheartedly supported. Regardless of the scale, it demonstrates further progress in the fight against food waste from both businesses and residents alike.

At ReFood, we applaud Free-Go’s creative initiative.

As for the question of whether or not the UK should follow suit, I’d argue that we’re already pressing ahead with several similar voluntary initiatives that aim to prevent unnecessary waste.

From the huge success of the Community Fridge Network, which has already redistributed the equivalent of more than 16 million meals, to the increasing adoption of food waste redistribution apps such as Too Good To Go, creative campaigns are helping to quickly erode our food waste mountain.

However, while voluntary reduction initiatives are proving a positive force in the community, preventing waste is just one part of the equation. What should consumers do with products that simply aren’t edible? That goes for public refrigerators too! 

Rather than relying on dated waste management techniques, at ReFood we believe that food waste recycling is the simple and sustainable solution for unavoidable food waste. While far from the silver bullet for all surplus food, recycling prevents inedible produce – such as shells, bones, gristle and out-of-date goods – from being landfilled.

Food waste
Circular Online has previously explored what the solution to food waste is.

The process is simple. Once collected, food waste is taken to anaerobic digestion (AD) facilities, naturally broken down and turned into renewable energy. At ReFood, we operate three state-of-the-art AD facilities in the UK, which process more than 460,000 tonnes of food waste per annum and, in return, generate both renewable electricity and gas – helping to minimise our reliance on energy imports.

We even take the process one step further, by creating a sustainable biofertilizer from the resulting digestate, which is used by local farmers in place of chemical fertilisers. In essence, using yesterday’s food to grow tomorrow’s crops. The whole process is not just completely circular, but also zero waste – every gram of food collected is given a new life.

Of course, the ideal scenario would be a zero-waste world. However, this is simply not practical. Instead, we need to follow the food waste hierarchy; reducing waste wherever possible, redistributing what we can’t and recycling the unavoidable remaining waste.

I’d like to see the government reconsider its U-turn on the food waste reporting mandate

Initiatives like Switzerland’s Free-Go project should be celebrated. They’re exactly the sort of catalysts we need to get people talking and encourage businesses and consumers alike to consider innovative ways to minimise waste. However, we must not forget the unavoidable fraction and the 10 million tonnes of food waste that continue to be landfilled in the UK alone year after year.

Personally, I’d like to see the government reconsider its U-turn on the food waste reporting mandate promised as part of the Resources and Waste Strategy. What’s more, I’d like to see action accelerated to provide homeowners with access to kerbside food waste recycling collections.

After all, surely we can’t expect to tackle the UK’s food waste mountain through a completely voluntary approach? No other country and no other waste sector would even consider this. The government needs to step up to the plate if it remains serious about tackling national food waste figures. 

Can we learn from Switzerland? Well, from a government support perspective, absolutely!

Got something to say on this article or topic? Submit your views and contact the editor at darrel.moore@ciwm.co.uk.

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