How a Free Grocery Store Is Cutting Food Waste—and Hunger
By Rina Diane
On a windy late afternoon, dozens of people have lined up in front of a 20-foot-long repurposed shipping container situated on a church parking lot. Inside, volunteers are unloading food items from custom-built shopping carts and stacking them onto rows of shelves. There are hearty rice meals and healthy salads, thick sandwiches, pies and other savory and sweet items. This is just another busy day for The Free Store.
The Free Store is a nonprofit organization that redistributes surplus food from local businesses in New Zealand's capital city, Wellington, to those in need. It was inspired by a two-week art project in 2010 where artist Kim Paton filled a shop with surplus food items from bakeries and supermarkets. Anyone visiting the shop could take what they wanted free of charge.
"I heard that some of the food in the shop was from cafés," said Benjamin Johnson, 28, co-founder and director of The Free Store. "It was food left over at the end of the day that was still in a good state. Imagine if there's more food from cafés and restaurants in the city that is good to eat but is just being thrown away. We could do something about that."
Food waste is a costly issue. Each year, Kiwis throw away 872 million New Zealand dollars ($625 million) worth of food—that's over 120,000 tons of food per year. However, this is only a fraction of the 1.3 billion tons of food wasted annually around the world. It's also a small percentage compared to the 88 million tons of food wasted in Europe or the 66.5 million tons of food wasted in the U.S. Yet there are families going hungry all around the country. According to UNICEF, 28 percent of New Zealand children—about 295,000—live in poverty.
"We saw the potential in an untapped food supply. You had food that was perfectly good to eat, and then you had people that were hungry. We could facilitate a connection between the two," Johnson said. Taking the art project as inspiration, Johnson and a group of friends decided in November 2010 to transform The Free Store model into a long-term sustainable community initiative.
People lining up for food at The Free Store.Benjamin Johnson
The Free Store currently has 65 suppliers around the city center—cafés, restaurants, bakeries and catering companies donating food they are unable to sell by the end of the day. The local Neo Café & Eatery has been donating scones, muffins and other unsold baked items to the store for more than three years. Before partnering with The Free Store, the café either gave its leftover food to staff members or threw it in the trash.
"It's good to see our food utilized in a way that benefits people," said store manager Luke Crawford.
Johnson said that they are redistributing an estimated 800 to 1,500 food items each weeknight, averaging about 250,000 food items a year. He estimates that's worth a retail value of $1.45 million New Zealand dollars ($1.04 million U.S.).
These food items are handed out from 6 to 7 p.m. every weeknight to around 100 people from diverse backgrounds, including the homeless, unemployed, those with long-term health issues, immigrant and refugee families, students, and those who were recently released from prison.
The Free Store's volunteers collect food items from cafes, restaurants, bakeries, and catering companies using these custom-built shopping carts.Benjamin Johnson
"There are no conditions on who can come to The Free Store," Johnson explained. "There are no criteria. Anybody can come for whatever reason and take whatever they want."
More than a solution just to curb waste, The Free Store has grown into a community food source.
Before volunteering for The Free Store, 53-year-old Vincent Tito was lining up for food. "I was in debt. I was not eating properly, and my body was getting weak," he said. He regained strength through the greens and meat he got from The Free Store. But he didn't want to keep receiving—he also wanted to give. He volunteered to make coffee for customers waiting for the store to open and has been The Free Store's coffee manager for more than two years.
The Free Store has now spread to other regions within New Zealand. There are four stores across the country—all set in motion by the local communities themselves, adapting The Free Store model in their own ways. Operations rely on grants from foundations and trusts, donations, and volunteers. They also conduct fundraising events each year.
A Free Store volunteer stacking food items on shelves.Benjamin Johnson
But the effort to reduce food wasteby redistributing surplus food is fast becoming a global movement. Similar initiatives are in place around the world: Food from the Heart in Singapore collects and redistributes unsold bread from bakeries; FoodBlessed in Lebanon turns unwanted food from supermarkets, farms, and food retailers into free meals; and in the U.S., Copia has created a mobile app to schedule pickups of surplus food, which is then delivered to local nonprofits.
Johnson believes that The Free Store concept can be replicated around the world. "All you need is a space to operate from, surplus food, people who need the food and will come and take it, volunteers, and a committed group of people who can actually do it," he said. "There has to be local ownership. In every area where there's a Free Store, there needs to be a deeply rooted community of people."
What started as an art project has become a community lifeline.
Reposted with permission from our media associate YES! Magazine.
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By 2030, almost a third of all the energy consumed in the European Union must come from renewable sources, according to binding targets agreed in 2018. Sweden is helping lead the way.
Sweden is a world leader in renewable energy consumption. Swedish Institute/World Bank
Naturally Warm<p>54% of Sweden's power comes from renewables, and is helped by its geography. With plenty of moving water and 63% forest cover, it's no surprise the <a href="https://sweden.se/nature/energy-use-in-sweden/#" target="_blank">two largest renewable power sources</a> are hydropower and biomass. And that biomass is helping support a local energy boom.</p><p>Heating is a key use of energy in a cold country like Sweden. In recent decades, as fuel oil taxes have increased, the country's power companies have turned to renewables, like biomass, to fuel local 'district heating' plants.</p><p>In Sweden these trace their <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank">origins back to 1948</a>, when a power station's excess heat was first used to heat nearby buildings: steam is <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/district-heating-system" target="_blank">forced along a network of pipes</a> to wherever it's needed. Today, there are around 500 district heating systems across the country, from major cities to small villages, providing heat to homes and businesses.</p><p>District heating used to be fueled mainly from the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140" target="_blank">by-products of power plants</a>, waste-to-energy plants and industrial processes. These days, however, Sweden is bringing more renewable sources into the mix. And as a result of competition, this localized form of power is now the country's<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> home-heating market leader.</a></p>
Sweden is using smart grids to turn buildings into energy producers. Huang et al/Elsevier
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<div id="d7bf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8757b138d5570bec9d6aad18074a429a"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1273556364263071744" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Read more about Western Harbour and book a visit: https://t.co/ujSmVs9rNK 🏡🌳🌊 https://t.co/C5PuPziqIM</div> — Smart City Sweden (@Smart City Sweden)<a href="https://twitter.com/SmartCitySweden/statuses/1273556364263071744">1592474473.0</a></blockquote></div>
Scaling Up<p>A recent development by E.ON in Hyllie, a district on the outskirts of Malmö, southern Sweden, <a href="https://www.eonenergy.com/blog/2019/February/sweden-smart-city" target="_blank">has scaled up the smart grid principle</a>. Energy generation comes from local wind, solar, biomass and waste sources.</p><p>Smart grids then balance the power, react to the weather, deploying extra power when it's colder or putting excess into battery storage when it's warm. The system is not only more efficient, but bills have fallen.</p><p>Smart energy developments like those in Hyllie, Ludivika, and renewable-driven district heating, offer a radical alternative to the centralized energy systems many countries rely on today.</p><p>The EU's leaders have a challenge: how to generate 32% of energy from renewables by 2030. Sweden offers a vision of how technology and local solutions can turn a goal into a reality.</p>
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