Our volunteers serving delicious meals from rescued food at the National Selection Conference © Anna von Flüe

Earlier this month on a Saturday morning, our events coordinator along with our zealous volunteers were busy chopping and cooking rescued food to feed the 150 attendees of the National Selection Conference. The event was organised here in Amsterdam by the European Youth Parliament the Netherlands, together with the United Nations Environmental Programme.

The National Selection Conference brings together 100 Dutch and international delegates who would have passed through the four preliminary rounds open for high school students all over the Netherlands.  This 19th edition of the conference ‘Bending without breaking: A modern union in a changing Europe’ brought together youths to discuss and debate the challenges the European Union is facing within the broader topics of sustainability, climate change and other related environmental issues. The lead event organiser from the European Youth Parliament the Netherlands explained the intentions as ‘Aiming to provide a platform whereby youth can discuss the changes needed in the movement towards a more sustainable future for Europe’. The conference highlights the importance of involving young people in political processes and decision making in order to create active and critical citizens.

The 19th edition of the National Selection Conference, Amsterdam © European Youth Parliament the Netherlands


How do TBYW and the National Selection conference come together? 

Cooking rescued food © Anna von Flüe

TBYW gets plenty of catering requests, however as an organisation we always make sure that the aim of the event and purpose of those organising it align with our mission. Since the programme at the National Selection Conference focused on activating young people towards sustainability and adaptability, we sought to support and to take the opportunity to introduce people to our mission. As an organisation the European Youth Parliament Netherlands (EYP) wanted to put into practice that which it preaches, and send a message that tackling global issues can be done through simple measures, as cooperating with local initiatives.

“ … a great part of it comes through the values we share: the idea that young people should take responsibility to make the change they want to see in the world; the sustainable interaction with our neighbourhood, the environment and our food; and the idea that you can make a change and the realisation that, if you aren’t afraid to reach out to those around you, you will find more people willing to support your cause than you had originally expected.

  – Thanos Theofanakis, Head  Organiser of the National Selection Conference, European Youth Parliament

How did TBYW get ready for the catering?

TBYW volunteers © Anna von Flüe

The  same format as for our weekly dinners was followed, but with the challenge of preparing enough food for almost double the amount of people. Our volunteers collected unwanted food from grocery shops and catering companies, filled the bakfiets and rode towards our kitchen. There they met the volunteers where they proceeded to cook and  prepare the food. A second group of volunteers then helped to set up and serve the food at the location.

The most essential preparation was ensuring we had enough volunteers. Without them it would nothave been possible, and I was so impressed by how dedicated and helpful everyone was. They really made it possible – and fun!” – TBYW events coordinator, Jenny

The response from the conference attendees was truly positive as many people asked questions about the organisation and complimented the food. Everyone was open minded about trying ‘waste’ food, and it inspired them to consider how they consume food more carefully.

What is the extent of food waste in the food service sector?

Presently, the food service sector is responsible for 14% of the total amount of food waste within the EU 27, at an average of 25kg per capita. Here the food service sector refers to the; “production sector involved in the preparation of ready-to-eat food for sale to individuals and communities; includes catering and restauration activities in the hospitality industry, schools, hospitals and businesses (European Commission, 2010).” This sector is the third largest food waste source in the EU 27, after households (42%), and manufacturing (39%).  It still presents opportunities to address inefficiencies in the supply chain and reduce the environmental and financial costs.

Wastage mostly occurs due to spoilage,preparation, plate wastage, and food which is prepared but not served. In its preparatory study on food waste across EU 27, the European Commission identified a number of causes for wastage which include lack of awareness and cultural attitudes, inefficient stock management, cooking and serving practices, and marketing strategies and standards (European Commission, 2010). For example, the simple action of taking leftovers home tends to be frowned upon which results in food being thrown out rather than consumed later. Portion sizes prove to be tricky, as already-set portions might be too much for personal appetites, however a buffet style also leads to wastage as individuals might help themselves to more than what they actually will consume.

© Anna von Flüe

Financially, this food waste represents a huge loss for the food service sector, as perfectly edible food is being thrown out. This now ex-food, accounts for costs for the providers, as they buy ingredients, store them, and then pay employees to make the necessary preparations for consumption (Kreienberg, 2018). Such ineffectiveness in the present food service system makes providers spend money on products which will never be consumed.

Environmentally, this wastage of food is a double loss, at pre-consumption and the post-consumption stages (Lipinski , O’Connor, & Hanson, 2016). The initial stage consumes natural resources such as land, water to grow produce, then energy sources for transportation and production which account for GHGs emissions. In the post-consumption stage food waste needs to be collected and treated which again require energy and land resources. This process results in greenhouse gasses and methane emissions as waste decomposes in landfills.

© Anna von Flüe

Socially, this has negative implications on the global issue of food scarcity, where one in nine people is still malnourished. Food waste, especially in the food service sector highlights the global social inequalities, as certain parts of the world don’t have a constant reliable food source,  while other parts of the world are wasting edible food (Oliveira, Pinto de Moura, & Cunha, 2016). Especially, in the food service sectors, consumers seem to lose their responsibility and ownership of food because they are detached from its production and preparation. This culture of abundance which is assumed for an enjoyable dining out experience devalues food and generates waste, however this does not have to be so.

What can be done?

Let’s not give up on the food service sector just yet, as it is still a sector ripe with opportunity to reduce food waste. Simple but effective changes can be made in the kitchen, during service, and at consumption. Technology can provide means to prolong the shelf life of produce broadening the time frame within which produce can be used in kitchens. Together with the right tools and attitude kitchen staff can be equipped with more creative thinking when using their produce to minimize losses. Food operators take on a role in educating both staff and consumers on the implications of the food waste. In turn customers can reward providers which are reducing their food waste and finding more sustainable means to provide their service without diminishing the overall experience or satisfaction.

Luckily HOTREC, the umbrella Association of hotels, restaurants, bars and cafes and similar establishments in Europe provides guidelines to reduce food waste and recommendations to manage food donations. These are step by step changes which providers can make to reduce food waste, right from constructing the menu to recycling and reusing food leftovers (HOTREC, 2017). Such changes would eventually improve the competitiveness of these food service providers, as it cuts their financial costs and also offer better prices for consumers.

Some of the suggested improvements include:

  • Favour flavours over quantities
  •  Involve your customers in your efforts to reduce food waste/losses: encourage them to act responsibly and sustainably
  • When possible, favour advance bookings to have a better view on the quantity of products to be ordered and stored
  • Have a responsible person in charge of food donations. This will avoid mismanagement of food surplus, and therefore prevent avoidable losses

Source: European Hospitality industry guidelines to reduce food waste and recommendations to manage food donations, HOTREC, Hospitality Europe (2017)

So, what does this mean?

Our collaboration with the European Youth Parliament Netherlands, and involvement at the National selection conference, stand as an example how a localised initiative can provide a solution to environmental issues which can seem overwhelming to tackle. This catering contributed to reducing food waste and the environmental impact, while providing attendees with nutritious delicious food , and  insight to practical way of addressing food waste. We have shown how, with the right changes the food service sector has the potential to contribute to a more sustainable food system This catering event also reaffirms the role that youths play in societal change, which should never be underestimated. Both organisations Taste Before You Waste and the European Youth parliament the Netherlands are youth led and committing their efforts towards a positive impact.  With such small steps, we continue on the mission to minimize food waste and maximize the food value, along with all those offering their support.


European Commission, 2010

FAO, 2011

HOTREC, 2017

Kreienberg, 2018

Lipinski , B., O’Connor, C., & Hanson, C. ,2016

Oliveira, B., Pinto de Moura, A., & Cunha, L. ,2016

Vol, 2014


Special thanks to the Thanos Theofanakis, Head organiser at the 19th National Selection Conference, Amsterdam, and TBYW  Events coordinator Jenny Willcock for their contribution. 

Just about a decade ago it was rare to witness individual fruits and vegetables wrapped in plastic. But today, almost everything comes packaged in a plastic film. Although such packaging helps to preserve products for longer period of time, we are often oblivious of the fact that they are the biggest irritants chocking our oceans.Globally, as little as 14% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2017, and each year, more than 8 million tons of plastic waste makes it into the world’s oceans (UNEP, 2017).

The root of the packaging wastage issue in grocery stores is attached to the way the food is packaged and sold to the end consumers. After being shipped in boxes, the food sits on the grocery shelf, often wrapped in plastic or cellophane. Consumers then carry the same food already wrapped in plastic in another plastic bag. Thus, there is a never ending trail of plastic wastage that keeps on multiplying from the producers till the end consumers.

The entry of the Zero- waste grocery stores :  

As a consequence of the extreme packaging wastage issue, there is a tremendous public resentment and backlash against single-use plastic packaging in recent years. For instance there have been well over 100 plastic attacks around the world, mostly in Europe, but also in Hong Kong, South Korea, Canada, Peru and the United States (Tutton, 2018). It has compelled many retailers to start rethinking about their waste footprint and design stores with minimum plastic packaging.  As a result, “Zero-waste” or package-free shops, which sell nothing wrapped in unnecessary packaging like plastic, cardboards came into existence. By offering people the option to buy bulk items in their own containers, or purchase refillable ones, these new package-free stores could change the way we shop. 

The trend of zero-waste grocery stores is spreading rapidly all around the world. Several zero-waste stores have opened across Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, Singapore and mainland China (Brinkley, 2018). Thus the following sections will analyse the different formats of such zero waste grocery stores around the world.  

The following are some of the popular design models of zero waste grocery stores:  

1. Refill format:  

One of the most popular zero waste design models amongst retailers is the refill format. Whereas non-food/specialty shops have remained successful in implementing such model in the past, grocery stores are still figuring out on ways to apply this refill model successfully. However many grocery stores are on the rise to aggressively commit themselves towards such a model, which can be evidenced from the following sections.  

©Judith Olive Oil

Some of the characteristic features of such stores are as follows: 

  •  Selling food items in bulk rather than plastic:

Many stores have developed such an approach to encourage customers to bring their own bags. Usually, customers bring in their own refillable containers which are then filled up with bulk buy foods such as grains, pulses, spices, fruits, vegetables and more. Additionally, there are also refills for toiletries, cleaning supplies and other household items.   

For instance, Green Parrot in Swaffham, UK is an independent health food shop which has successfully saved over 5,000 plastic bags and 1,000 plastic bottles during 2018 through its zero-waste refill rooms with dispensers (Hardy, 2019).  At Nada store of  Canada, a dishwasher-safe tag comes as part of their refill system, which makes it easier for returning customers. The tag will store the weight of the empty container, so customers can skip the “tap and weight” step the next time they shop. Big retailers are also slowly catching up with the trend of the refill system. For example, Marks & Spencer is set to launch more than 90 lines of loose fruit and vegetables free of all plastic packaging in a trial which will involve trained greengrocers on hand to help customers (Malley, 2019). 

Other stores that are following the similar footsteps include Precycle, a zero-waste grocery store in Brooklyn,Delicious food,Amsterdam ,The Filling Station in New York and Slowood of Hong Kong. 

  • Offering wholesome zero wastage product and services:  

Sustainable Non-Food items: Apart from providing a refill system for food items these stores also offer diverse, sustainable products and services. It ranges from providing packaging alternatives to sustainable non-food items. For instance, The Refillery in Newington, Edinburgh, stocks ethical detergents, beeswax wraps, cruelty-free  shampoos and even toothpaste in a jar along with food products and is passionate about reducing plastic across different product lines. On the other hand Marks and Spencer(“M&S”) said it has committed to replacing plastic produce bags with paper ones and phasing out plastic barcode stickers in favor of eco-friendly alternatives in every one of its UK stores (Malley, 2019).  

Straight@Amanda Palmar

Inculcating more sustainable lifestyle: Apart from alternative products these stores are going one step ahead by providing services which can facilitate sustainable lifestyle amongst customers. For example, Nada has already expanded the product offering and added a cafe that diverts what could otherwise become food waste from the market’s produce section to an ever-changing menu featuring soups and other dishes (Ottawa Citizen, 2019). Slowood store also has a vegan cafe that applies the same tread-softly philosophy to its menu and kitchen practices (James, 2019).  Greengrocers of M&S will offer customers help to pick and weigh their products and advise on how best to preserve fresh produce and prevent food waste at home as M&S has removed “best before” date labels as part of the trial (Malley, 2019). 

Supporting local charity with the proceeds : 

Many stores combine their zero waste design model to support other causes in the local community. For instance, Hemp bags are produced for the Green Parrot store (UK) by a group of local women, who also send them to Starlings, another independent shop located on the Market Place in the town. All proceeds from these bags go to local charities.  Nature’s Nutrition in North Devon,UK refill shop re-opened as a Community Interest Company some 18 months ago, and all profit goes back into projects in the local community (Howells, 2019). 

2. Zero waste Delivery services:

Not many delivery services are currently able to adopt zero plastic waste  model. However, The Wally Shop of Brooklyn is an exception which has ventured into such a model. It buys produce, grains and herbs from local bulk shops and  farmers’ markets. The service tries to make sure food is as fresh as possible, ideally traveling from farm to customer the same day. Couriers drop off and pick up reusable packaging. Right now, the service only operates in some Brooklyn neighborhoods, but it’s looking to expand to the rest of New York, as well as other cities. 

3. Reusable package model or the “Milkman Model”:  

A few big companies are also working on alternative ways to work towards reducing their waste footprint while also projecting their brand image as sustainable. Their efforts led to the durable packaging program, called “Loop” — a reference to a theoretical circular economy where nothing is wasted — making its debut at the World Economic Forum in Davos (WEF, 2019). Led by New Jersey-based recycling company TerraCycle, Loop will offer popular products from about 25 companies including Nestle, Unilever, Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo in reusable containers that customers order online or purchase in stores and return to the company when finished. 

Loop will collect a refundable deposit that customers will get back when they return their containers. UPS will pick up the empties for no additional charge. Even allowing for the energy required to transport and prepare the products for reuse, the program reduces waste, TerraCycle says. By midMay, products from Loop will initially be available online to customers in Paris through Carrefour and, in the U.S., in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.  

Why Should Consumers prefer such stores against the rest? 

©The Zero Waste Chef

Usually, customers prefer convenience and affordability in grocery shopping. They might not be able to experience such zero waste stores due to lack of information, inconvenience in bringing a reusable container, time constraint or non-availability of different food items. But these challenges can be easily tackled once customers start experiencing themselves and understand the underlying intention behind such stores.  


Also, there are numerous benefits of shopping at zero waste stores which are as follows:  

  1. Cheaper and fresh food products:   Using refill containers, bottles or bag helps to cut down on additional costs associated with plastic packaging. For instance, Slowood’s foodstuffs are cheaper than packaged supermarket versions, and bulk goods are priced per 10 grams, to cater to shoppers who want small amounts.
  2.  Super convenient: Many shoppers are still under the myth that zero waste stores will be burdensome regarding carrying your own containers. If the mere thought of switching the usual grocery shopping trip for a bring-your-own routine appears troublesome, consumers can start with small changes. It could be as small as carrying reusable shopping totes and skipping plastic produce bags — so no need to buy fancy jars to refill your food items next time.  It’s that simple, and costs a lot less than buying a new one.
  3. Conscious shopping experience:  Shopping at such stores can create a new wave of thoughtful consumers by shifting them away from their current disposable culture. It will inspire more consumers to be conscious and responsible with their purchases and consumption to have a more sustainable lifestyle. Consumers will make informed choices about the quantity of food through pre-planning about the food inventory before leaving the house. It will make sure how much you need and have room for in your reusable bags and containers. Thus it can help in reducing food wastage at the same time.


Overall, the concept of zero waste is already adapted by a few small and large retailers. Due to a general rise towards a more environmentally friendly consumption (Global Web Index, 2018), it can be said that the zero waste trend will continue to increase in the future. The result would be the better management of our ecosystem through minimum wastage of water, oil and other natural resources used to grow and deliver food, as well as keeping our oceans free of plastic pollution. 

In addition to that, such a model could be a viable, sustainable and cost effective option for businesses as well as consumers. Zero-waste saves companies money by reducing disposal, labor and energy costs.  Also, such a model has the potential to encourage suppliers to adapt to plastic free delivery to retailers. It can result in less wastage even during production and supply chain. On the other hand, consumers are going to experience conscious shopping in a convenient and affordable manner. It ultimately supports a shift towards a circular economy, where there is no waste involved.  

Though it is still at a nascent stage, we should remember changes take time. And even a small step like skipping plastic bags for a day can have significant impacts.  But the trend must also be scrutinised against risks related to greenwashing- an act of spreading disinformation, largely by corporate interests, in order to present an eco-friendly public image. This way we can take a significant leap towards a sustainable future. 


Ellen MacArthur Foundation





Lynn News

The Independent

Ottawa Citizen

South China Morning Post

North Devon Gazette

Global Web Index