At the end of 2019, Coca-Cola in Russia signed an agreement with the Rus Foundation: the company will donate surplus products to those in need. We tell you why this is important, what foodsharing is and how it saves the planet from greenhouse gases.
What is foodsharing?
Every day, producers, retail chains and restaurants are left with tons of untouched products and drinks with an expiry date. Despite the fact that they are fully edible, most of the time they are simply disposed of. The idea behind foodshedding is to rescue such food. Foodshed organisations donate food to low-income people – those who need it most.
How did foodsharing come about?
The idea of giving away food to the needy is not a new one, but food rescue organisations didn’t emerge very long ago. In the 1960s, John van Hengel, a businessman from American Phoenix, started taking unsold food from local shops and farmers to give to the poor. This is how the world’s first “food bank” came into being in 1967: a charity gets food from producers and distributes it among the needy. Soon such organisations were established in many countries, and the idea started to be actively supported by the authorities. Technology has also helped foodsharing to spread: in 2012, Germany launched Foodsharing.de, a service through which individuals and companies report products to be thrown away and volunteers pick them up. Similar food-saving resources have also appeared in other countries (in the UK, for example, the Olio app; in the US, Food Rescue US).
Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture/flickr
And how much food is thrown away every year?
A lot of it. According to various estimates, up to 30% of all food produced in the world is thrown away every year. That’s hundreds of millions of tonnes of food, worth more than $1 trillion. In Russia, about 17 million tonnes of food waste are thrown away each year, 94% of which goes to landfill. Of course, not all of this waste is expired food. A significant percentage is what people throw away during cooking. However, the loss of expired quality food is very high.
Clearly, quality products are for foodsharing. And the rest?
Yes, only untouched food that has not yet reached its expiry date is suitable for food shredding. Other food waste (especially vegetable waste) can, with the right approach, be used to make animal feed. Unsorted food waste is suitable for the production of biogas and fertiliser. All this significantly reduces the harm caused to the environment.
Is discarded food bad for the environment?
Yes. Firstly, once in the landfill, products emit huge amounts of methane (2.4 million tonnes per year in Russia alone). Apart from the fact that this greenhouse gas has a negative impact on the environment, it is flammable and can cause an explosion. This is what happened, for example, at a landfill in the English county of Derbyshire in 1986. Secondly, important resources – electricity, fuel, water, fertilizers and much more – are used to produce the products subsequently thrown away. At the same time, the World Bank predicts that the situation will worsen. While in 2018 the global population produced about 2 billion tonnes of household waste, by 2050 that figure will rise to 3.4 billion tonnes, and 44% of it will be food waste.
How many people can you feed with foodsharing?
A great many – millions of people around the world. In Russia alone, about 2.75 million people can be fed if they don’t throw away expired food. And this is an important help: according to Rosstat, 21 million people are below the poverty line in Russia in 2019.
How long has Foodshedding been in operation in Russia?
For quite a long time. Back in 2012, the Rus Food Charity Foundation began taking food products from companies and donating them to people in need, including elderly people and families with many children. A little later, in 2015, the Foodshedding volunteer project emerged: its participants in Moscow and St. Petersburg accept expired food from cafes and shops and also give it to those in need.
So it turns out that only volunteers and charities are involved in food-sharing in Russia?
No, as of late, large companies have also started to join the foodshare programmes. For example, in 2019, Coca-Cola signed an agreement with the Rus Foundation. The company will now donate expired juices, nectars, smoothies and fruit purees to the foundation. The Rus Foundation hands them over to the recipients as quickly as possible – most often on the same day. This means that no warehouse is even needed for the goods, and the products are guaranteed to reach those in need before they expire.
How is foodsharing regulated by law?
The donation of expired products itself is, of course, legal. But until recently, it was not easy for Russian companies who wanted to get involved in foodshedding: even when donating food for charitable purposes, they had to pay profit tax and VAT (this is approximately 40% of the value of the goods – the same as when selling them). This meant that sending food to a landfill was more profitable than donating it to the needy. At the same time, in many European countries, the donation of goods to charity is not subject to VAT, and in the USA, there are tax deductions for companies that have joined the foodshare scheme. More recently, the situation in Russia has also begun to change: in early 2020, the State Duma drafted a bill proposing to exempt the donation of products to charity from income tax, and in June it was signed into law.
Can private individuals get into the foodshare business?
Of course! There are three ways of doing this. First, you can volunteer to pick up leftover food from cafés and shops and distribute it to those in need. Secondly, if you have food that you are willing to share, you can write about it in private food groups (e.g. here or here). Thirdly, if you own a café or shop and are willing to donate expired food, you can write to charities – contacts can be found here and here.
I don’t consider myself low-income, nor am I ready to volunteer, but I like the idea of foodsharing. What to do?
In addition to charitable offers, there are also commercial ones – from the environmental point of view, this is no less useful. For example, since 2019 in Moscow and St. Petersburg there are apps (this and this) that allow you to buy from cafes and restaurants unsold food for a day at great discounts.