New programme tackles food waste and feeds hungry in Ghent

Summary

The City of Ghent has launched the Foodsavers programme in an effort cut 100 tonnes of wasted food each year

Too good to waste

It is no secret that food waste is a pressing global problem. The statistics are staggering: According to the United Nations, approximately one-third of all food produced in the world – some 1.3 billion tonnes – is lost or wasted before making it to the table.

In Europe alone, food waste amounts to 88 million tonnes each year, according to the European Commission. In its latest step in addressing environmental challenges, the City of Ghent and the local chapter of welfare agency OCMW have recently launched an initiative to redistribute 100 tonnes of food waste while at the same time preventing 254 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year.

Foodsavers Gent aims to reduce food waste on the local level by collecting surplus from supermarkets and producers and redistributing it to social organisations in need of food. The platform also works to alleviate social poverty with job skills training and free food assistance to those in need.

Planning and preparation began over a year ago when the city teamed up with Kosmosie, an organisation that unites the food waste sector, studying the viability of the project. The OCMW then joined forces with the city on the programme’s social aspect, co-ordinating foodstuff distribution among several organisations, including homeless shelters.

Think global, act local

Figuring out the logistics proved harder than expected. “The idea was quite simple, but putting it into practice turned out to be more complicated,” says Wouter Verstraete, the platform’s co-ordinator, referring to the challenges of transporting the goods and storing them. To help with the implementation, the city government has invested €280,000 in the platform.

Food waste in Ghent is caused by several factors, not unlike in other cities. Typically, supermarkets over-order products, resulting in overstock, or they don’t sell certain fruits and vegetables because of minor aesthetic imperfections.

The surplus food is then thrown out or left to decompose at landfills, contributing to the rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Foodsavers breaks this cycle by seeking out high-quality staple foods such as fresh produce, dairy products and bread. Most food is accepted, but, due to a lack of freezer capacity, anything past its sell-by date isn’t accepted.

Belgians are more receptive to environmental and social change than ever before

- Wouter Verstraete of OCMW

Foodsavers sets out to address three issues in the local community in particular: decreasing food waste and CO2 emissions, improving local social economy through paid skills training and offering food assistance to people in challenging financial situations. Kortrijk and Antwerp are currently working on adapting similar plans.

In no time, the platform’s environmental and social components have turned it into a success. According to Verstraete, some 30 social organisations are involved in the project to varying degrees, proving that starting locally is the best way to tackle global problems, he says. “Belgians are more receptive to environmental and social change than ever before.”

With operations in full swing, Verstraete says it’s only a matter of time before the platform expands to the rest of the city. At this pace, he adds, “Foodsavers will easily reach the target of collecting and redistributing 100 tonnes of food per year.”

To become involved in Foodsavers, email wouter.verstraete@ocmw.gent