Community Fridge Network to bring social value to food waste fight
Communal, community-based fridges filled with surplus food from local businesses and households could provide an effective new way of reducing perishable food waste, according to Sainsbury’s, which today (20 July) has launched the Community Fridge Network.
Sainsbury’s has partnered with behaviour change charity Hubbub and fridge manufacturer Bosch to launch the network of fridges located across the UK, open for everyone in the community to use.
Despite growing public awareness of the issue, food waste is still on the rise in the UK; seven million tonnes of food was wasted last year, with households throwing away the staggering total of £13-billion worth of food , and the hospitality and food service sector wasting £3 billion, according to WRAP figures.
This huge amount of waste come at a time that the number of people using food banks in the UK is at a record high. The Trussel Trust, which runs a network of 400 food banks throughout the UK, gave out 1.1 million packs of three-day food supplies in 2015/16, compared to 25,000 in 2008/09, creating an even starker image of the growth of food waste.
While redistribution networks exist for large retailers, until now, there have been limited options for families and businesses to get their surplus perishable food to those who need it safely and within the ‘use-by’ date. Some of the most commonly wasted food from UK homes includes fresh fruit and vegetables, bread, meat and ready meals. Meanwhile, cafés and restaurants often dispose of sandwiches and cooked food if they can’t sell it on the day it’s made.
The Community Fridge concept has been trialled in Europe with positive results. These projects then formed the basis of a pilot in Swadlincote, Derbyshire last year, which was funded by Sainsbury’s as part of its ‘Waste less, Save more’ programme, and saw the area reduce its food waste by nine per cent.
The first five new Community Fridges will open this month in Milton Keynes, three locations in North London (Manor House, Leytonstone and Old Street) and Northern Ireland. The planned roll out over the next year will see 25 more pop up across the UK from Bournemouth to Tyneside (see below). Existing independent Community Fridges, including the Swadlincote fridge and others in Camberwell, Frome and Brixton are also joining the network to add their combined efforts to the food waste fight.
In total, the Sainsbury’s and Hubbub hopes that 50 communities will be part of the network within its first year.
The fridges will bemainly housed in community centres, and have varying opening hours depending on the needs of each community. Access to the fridges is run on an honesty basis; people are able to take whatever they like, but are asked not to take more than they need. Users are also asked to note down what they take in the logbook, so that organisers can see how many people are being helped. Feedback from the Swadlincote pilot said that people used the fridges considerately and sensibly, being mindful of the fact that there were also others in need.
As well as a log book, Community Fridge users can find a noticeboard, food safety guidelines, recipes and a guest book in which to leave comments. The Community Fridge Network will also provide free advice and support to the organisers at each site, and act as a hub to enable disparate communities to share their experiences and learn from each other.
Hubbub hopes that in addition to reducing food waste, the fridges become a central part of their communities: sites of food education, skills, knowledge and goods sharing. It wants them to be a first step towards the founding of food co-ops, community owned energy and gardens.
Launching the network, Trewin Restorick, CEO and co-founder of Hubbub said: “Communities have long demonstrated an incredible ability to pull together to makes positive things happen and I’m delighted that there is growing support for this movement to tackle food waste at a community level. It’s great to see healthy perishable food going to those who need it most and we would love to hear from other communities who might be interested in joining us."
Paul Crewe, Head of Sustainability at Sainsbury's added: "Following on from the huge success of the Swadlincote pilot – which saw over 9,000 items of food redistributed in just seven months – we are delighted to support The Community Fridge Network.
“This innovative trial has shown us that one small town can save over 500kg of food every month so this is a fantastic opportunity for even more people to reduce their food waste and save money.”
Waste Less, Save More
The Community Fridge Project is just one part of Sainsbury’s ‘Waste Less, Save More’ programme, a five-year, £10-million programme which aims to get shoppers to waste less food through a variety of initiatives.
The programme was expanded nationwide this year following a 12-month trial in the town of Swadlincote, with headline initiatives to include teaching shoppers the difference between ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates and the release of £1 million in funding to 29 ‘Discovery Communities’ across the UK.
Results from the trial, compiled by WRAP, show that Swadlincote residents reduced their avoidable food waste by nine per cent. A third of households felt their awareness of food waste had risen over the course of the trial and food sharing initiatives such as Community Fridges and use of the Olio app saw residents share the equivalent of 10,000 food items, while schools in the area saved an average of 21 kilograms of food per week, equating to a saving of £2,000 per school per year.
Elsewhere in the UK, other community based projects aimed at reducing waste are gaining traction. Earlier this year Bristol opened a free public drinking fountain and bottle filling station as part of Refill Bristol, a project designed to reduce plastic pollution by building a network of free water points for people to refill their bottles.
In London, this year saw the first birthday of the very popular Library of Things. Visitors are invited to borrow a range of useful household items, reducing waste by ensuring that the items are re-used multiple times instead of being thrown away.
Confirmed locations of the first 30 Community Fridges are:
- Brighton & Hove
- Cloughmills, Northern Ireland
- London – Brixton, Camberwell, Leytonstone, Manor House, Old Street
- Milton Keynes
- Norfolk (7 locations)
More information about the Community Fridge Network can be found on the Hubbub website.