The REFRESH Food Waste conference in Berlin.
(c) Sophia Bensch

In mid may Sophia Bensch, the Taste Before You Waste coordinator, visited the REFRESH Food Waste conference in Berlin. This get-together aimed to connect stakeholder groups who fight food waste.  Two days full of keynotes, brainstorming sessions, as well as cooking together was on the programme. Sophia gives you some insights on what happened at the event, who was there, and what has been discussed.

Taste Before You Waste: Why was it important for you to go to Berlin?

Sophia Bensch:  Luana is leaving Taste Before You Waste this summer. Therefore I will take over her task of representing our organization. I saw the Refresh Food Waste conference as an opportunity to build up our network, to establish Taste Before You Waste and to strengthen personal relationships with like-minded people. We are constantly developing and this conference is a great source of inspiration. Two years ago we went to a similar conference in Paris, which actually kick-started many of our ongoing partnerships, some of which even in Amsterdam.

TBYW: Who organized the event?

Sophia: It was organized by REFRESH (Resource Efficient Food and dRink for the Entire Supply cHain), the successor of the FUSIONS programme (Food Use for Social Innovation by Optimizing Waste Prevention Strategies) which is funded by the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme of the EU.

TBYW: Who participated in the event?

Sophia: On the first day around 200 policy makers, entrepreneurs, researchers, as well as grass-root organisations from all over the EU attended. The second day was more intimate. Mainly grass-root initiatives and start-ups were there. Some policy makers were there as well to get an impression of the ideas of reducing food waste that were developed by start-ups. The focus lay on how to communicate this to the policy level. Day two was easier to make connections and dig deeper into certain topics.

TBYW: What happened at the event?

Sophia: On day one the winner of the Public Award for the REFRESH Food Waste Solution Contest held a speech. The winner, Zero Waste Aiud, showed how to unite people under the topic of food waste. They collect and redistribute unsold goodies from a market in Aiud, which is a neglected Romanian town. They managed to put the spotlight on their hometown because of this contest and the fight against food waste. Other than that there were many keynotes and panel discussions. Among others, the EU commissioner for Health and Food Safety called on the power of the people to take responsibility about food waste. His keynote was the most memorable for me on day one. Overall the format of day one was too traditional for my taste, not interactive and empowering enough. However we ended the day with a hilarious improvisational theatre show, followed by a disco chop. The sun was out, the DJ was playing and we were cutting, cooking and eating lovely wonky veggies together. We had different salads, delicious mushroom stew, fruit salad, and special beer made from bread waste. Day two was even more impressive for me. During the “speed dating” we had the chance to get to know every food waste entrepreneur. Case studies were presented and in brainstorming sessions we gave the entrepreneurs input for their challenges. We ended the conference by making recommendations for policy changes. The cool thing is that foodWIN collected all ideas and presented them to REFRESH and therefore established a direct contact with EU institutions.. Some of our ideas were for example to expand the food waste solution France has at the moment for all Europe, or to disestablish the best before date on food products, which does not refer to food safety.

Read more about the tale of the expiration date in our blog article.

TBYW: What was the difference between the last event and this one?

Sophia: Last time the dynamic was different. I had the impression that it was more professional this time and that I could be inspired by food waste experts and entrepreneurs. The conference was bigger and also included the food safety sector, the food system as a whole, agriculture, as well as scientific research. This year the whole conference was more coherent. Two years ago they even handed out small plastic water bottles, countless tiny plastic cups filled with salads for lunch and at the end of the day around half of all food was left without an alternative destination. Of course all the grass-roots organisations joined forces managed to take everything in Tupperware to the after-party. However the fact that this even happened was ridiculous!

TBYW: What improvements would you suggest?

Sophia: I would hope for more possibilities of interaction on the first day. For me, the actual networking happened during the coffee breaks. Less time sitting, more time interacting!

TBYW: What talk, idea or person stuck in your mind?

Sophia: I was impressed by Tainá Guedes, an artist who works with food waste. Her installation was a glass globe filled with 9 ½ kilogram of bread. This is the average amount of bread one single person wastes per year. Her team prepared spread and dips to eat with the bread. It was powerful to see how you can  feed a whole party with the bread waste of one person. I learned from her that working with aesthetics is essential to touch people’s emotions. If food waste is visually pleasing you feel the contradiction even more: “This is actually supposed to end up in the bin but it looks amazing and I want to eat it”.

You also want to be surprised by how good food waste tastes? Join us for one of our weekly Wasteless Wednesday Dinners at Dokhuis Galerie. We actively fight food waste. Be part of our movement and let us serve you consciousness on a platter!

You can watch a brief video about the conference here:

Bar chart for EU-28 member states that submitted data for calculations of food waste in households

FUSIONS (Food Use for Social Innovation by Optimizing Waste Prevention Strategies) is a project funded by the European Commission which ended in July 2016. The aim was to make food waste monitoring all over the EU-28 comparable, to gather knowledge about how to reduce discarded food and to build a framework on Food Waste policy for the EU-27. To accomplish their goals, FUSIONS collected data about discarded food in different sectors in the EU between 2012 and 2016. Member states provided the most information about wasted food in households; therefore this sector will be topic of this blog post. I read through their research paper called “Estimates of European food waste levels” and gathered the most important findings about this pressing issue in European households.

Data gaps

First of all: Not all EU-28 countries provided data about their food waste. To fill the data gaps, mean levels of food waste were calculated on the basis of the countries that have supplied data. In the next step the averages were multiplied by the population of each country.  This is a legit measure if samples, in this case the countries which provided data, are proven not to be representative for the population which are in this case the EU-28 member states. However this procedure is questionable mainly due to the fact that higher income countries are not comparable to lower income countries. These countries might differ enormously in regard to their spending capacity and subsequently in their disposal of food. Results are therefore only estimates and never true values. The title of the research paper gave this fact away anyway. Nevertheless it is important to point it out again because the findings should be assessed critically.

Available data

19 out of 28 countries made data available about food waste in households. Eleven of them submitted data about generated food waste within the municipal waste stream. FUSIONS acknowledge data from municipalities to be more reliable in comparison to mere estimates of food waste streams. Therefore, the approximations for the EU‑28 member states were derived from those eleven countries. The data submitted by the countries is representative for the whole country and is based on current findings.

Defining food waste

There exists no European framework that defines food waste. FUSIONS defined food waste as food which is edible as well as thrown away and food which could not be consumed anymore and was discarded. The research paper highlights this differentiation between these two in all their calculations.

Costs of food waste

To calculate the cost of edible and inedible food waste in households, FUSIONS used a study from the UK as a basis. The prices were converted from Pounds to Euro. Relative price differences between the UK and the EU were taken into account and adjusted. The result shows that European household waste 46.5 million tonnes of food worth 98 billion Euros on average per year. According to the research paper, every person produces 92 kilogram food waste. Alarming is that 60 % of this food could still be consumed. Taking into consideration that the numbers are only indications, they are still too high. This amount of food waste is of course also expensive. One tonne of edible food waste is estimated to cost around 3.529 Euro.

Disposing edible veggies, fruits, and other goodies is the same as literally throwing away money. 3.529 Euro could have been spent so much better. 706 people could have eaten at our Wasteless Wednesday Dinner based on suggested five Euro donations. There we actively fight food waste together. You want to help us? Joins us next Wednesday!