Think dumpster diving is for hipsters and homeless people? Think again. While people have been rummaging through discards for centuries to find edible food to support themselves and their families, dumpster diving is going increasingly mainstream, and in Germany, it’s just gone high tech. A network of Germans who want to reduce food waste, highlight the huge food waste problem in the West, and, let’s face it, feed themselves, have worked out an innovative foodsharing network that shows how dumpsters don’t have to be the end point of unwanted food.
Food waste has been in the news a lot recently, with more and more people growing aware of the sheer volume of food thrown out in Western nations every year. In the U.S. alone, food accounts for an eye-goggling 21% of municipal solid waste. Worldwide, over one trillion dollars worth of food is thrown out every year, making up a third of the food produced. That’s a whole lot of food going nowhere, which is bad for the environment and bad for people. Advocates against food waste want to see production cut, food diverted to the people who need it and alternatives to landfilling or incineration (like composting) pursued with more vigor.
Meanwhile, in the Global South, food waste is much lower; in fact, the total amount of food wasted in the West amounts to almost the entire food production of Sub-Saharan Africa. Huge discrepancies exist worldwide in terms of who can access a steady supply of fresh, healthy food, and food waste is a significant contributor, as it diverts resources, farmland and food itself to the production of food for some while others starve. Achieving a state of balance and equal distribution of food resources requires rethinking individual relationships with food and waste, but also changing the entire model of the food system.
Which brings us to Germany, where dumpster divers and allies can sign up for a foodsharing network that distributes information about the latest hot dumpster finds, including bread, chocolate, fresh fruit, cheese, packaged foods, and more. Like other Western nations, Germany routinely discards food that isn’t “perfect,” even if it’s totally edible; bananas that look funny, tomatoes that aren’t quite as rosy-red as they should be. Food may also be discarded before sell-by dates if it’s no longer on trend or if a store needs to clear space. All this food is fine to eat, and can in fact be quite delicious, but historically, access to it was limited to those willing to rummage around in dumpsters to find it.
All that’s changing with the foodsharing network, which includes anonymous pickup and dropoff points in key locations, along with a website with constantly updated information on where people can pick up food. This distribution network diverts edible food to hungry or otherwise interested mouths, and keeps it out of the landfill. More than that, in the long term, an effective foodsharing network can relieve pressures on the Global South, which could in turn help combat hunger in this region of the world, especially when paired with other food saving initiatives.
Could the foodsharing network spread? Let’s hope so, because in addition to being innovative, it’s easily replicable and could make a big difference in communities across the world. While the movement is very young, it has real potential to become something amazing. Even for those not interested in taking advantage of it, it’s a great starting point for a conversation about wasted food.
Photo credit: Incase.