In the last five years, Denmark has cut its food waste by 25%.
It's no accident. Denmark has more food waste initiatives than anybody else in Europe. Every single supermarket has a strategy in place to combat food waste. And, like every historic movement, there’s one passionate leader forcing the issue through on the front lines.
Selina Juul is not a politician. She’s not a rich philanthropist. She wasn’t even born in Denmark. She arrived from Russia when she was 13 years old, and immediately recognised stark differences from the life she knew where sustenance was so much harder to come by.
“I come from a country where there were food shortages, we had the collapse of infrastructure, communism collapsed, we were not sure we could get food on the table”, Juul said in an interview with the BBC that’s clocked up millions of views in a matter of days. “Then I was really shocked to see a lot of food getting wasted.”
Juul, 36, set up Stop Spild Af Mad, translated as Stop Wasting Food, as a Facebook group in 2008. Since then, the organisation has taken her to food waste fame, supermarket boardrooms, and even to the EU parliament.
“Food waste is the lack of respect for our nature, for our society, for the people who produce the food, for the animals, and the lack of respect for your time and your money,” Juul added.
The Guardian has reported on several of Juul’s brilliantly simple ideas.
Instead of a doggy bag to take home unwanted food from restaurants, she rebranded them as “goody bags”, and distributed 80,000 across the country. A Danish food blogger summed this up succinctly: “(it’s) food you’ve already paid for – like your groceries – so why wouldn’t you bring them home?”
With Stop Spild Af Mad, Juul has been dragging supermarket chains into the process too.
Rema 1000, Denmark’s biggest budget supermarket franchise, replaced all high-quantity discounts with single item discounts after a conversation with her. The result? Previously, a single retailer might waste nearly 100 bananas a day. Now, one grocer said that the policy change reduced banana waste by 90%, after they put up this sign which translates as “take me I’m single.”
In Denmark, Juul is not alone. Wefood, a Danish charity, opened what was reported by The Independent as the world’s first food waste supermarket in Copenhagen. Within six months of opening, the shop received over 40 tonnes of food that was destined for the bin, often marketed at half the price of fresh produce elsewhere. After nine months, it became so popular that they had to open a second branch in Nørrebro.
The idea is taking off around the world.
The UK’s first food waste supermarket was opened by the Real Junk Food Project in Leeds last year, and now there are more opening in Sheffield, Bradford, Brighton, Wigan, Northampton, Birmingham, Leicester, and London. Its founder, Adam Smith, began with “pay-as-you-feel” cafes, cooking up a food waste feast for customers who could pay whatever they wanted for a meal made entirely from ingredients that otherwise would’ve been thrown away. Now, you can find similar cafes in Australia and Israel too.
“I’m this guy from Leeds who decided to feed the world and then just went and did it,” Smith told Global Citizen last year. “If you’ve got an idea, who cares? Just do it.”
Globally, the world wastes a third of all food it produces. Denmark wastes 700,000 tonnes of food every year. 55 million people in Europe are not able to afford a quality meal every other day, but the continent still wastes 88 million tonnes of food annually.
Soon, the European Parliament's Environment Committee will face a second vote on a bill to halve all EU food waste by 2030. Food waste is a problem being fought from all corners, but we need to step it up.
We can’t wait for the world to turn into Denmark, France, or Italy. Individual determination can take you just as far on a local level. You could put food waste into a community fridge for people to take for free. Or even storm the red carpet with the mission of turning medals into meals. Sometimes, all it takes is an app to take control over your own food footprint. The example of waste warriors like Selina Juul and Adam Smith teaches a simple lesson - if you want to see change, make it happen. What are you waiting for?