A co-operative in Berlin aims to stop food waste in the city through a simple initiative of sharing food – but it faces a stiff challenge to keep running.
Foodsharing began in 2012. Every day, ‘Foodsavers’ from the co-op go to bakeries, supermarkets and shops to pick up unsold food. They can either keep it for themselves, give it to others, or put it in one of the 25 community Fairteiler (‘fair-sharer’) fridges and cupboards around the city. That food is then available to anyone who wishes to take it.
Since it began, it’s estimated that Foodsharing has saved around a tonne of food that would otherwise have gone to waste.
However, these communal cupboards and fridges are now being closed down. The debate centres on whether they are considered private or public. If they are private then they can be left alone; if they are public – as Berlin authorities are arguing – then they must face stringent EU regulations over food safety.
However the co-op argues that they are private and, because all members are volunteers, it would be impossible to fulfil the EU guidelines. These include measures such as as documenting everything that goes in and out of each fridge, something they don’t have the manpower to do.
Some cupboards and fridges have already been closed down. The secretary for consumer protection Sabine Toepfer-Katat told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle the aim was not to shut down food sharing, but simply to protect the health of the public. “There needs to be someone who is responsible,” she says.
“If there’s something that’s bad in one of the fridges, both the food safety authorities and the person who took the food must have someone they can get in touch with. These rules apply for every food business.”
Foodsharing is fighting back and a petition has launched to keep it running, so far attracting 16,000 signatures.
The idea is spreading. A town in the Basque Country, northern Spain, has copied the idea of communal fridges. In France last May, authorities passed a law banning supermarkets from destroying unsold food. Instead they must donate it to charities or for animal feed.
And in the UK, Co-operative Food has agreed to donate surplus goods from its warehouses to local charities. The partnership with charity FareShare sees the food passed on to charities and community groups, who then turn the food into nutritious meals for vulnerable people.
It’s hoped the Co-op’s initiative will donate 500 tonnes of food in 2016, enough for over one million meals.