Greggs and Marks and Spencer have joined a growing movement for “solidarity fridges”, where food waste can be left to be shared by the community.
The project has already been successfully tried in Frome, and is set to expand to more town centres over time.
A Frome Success
The Somerset town may not be the most likely place to find a community experiment, but the public fridge is certainly that. It occupies a space in what used to be a public toilet block, and has become a normal part of the community after residents adjusted to its presence.
It was the town council resilience officer, Anna Francis, who brought the idea up. She had heard of solidarity fridges being used in Spain, and in April 2016 it came to Frome. Students from a local school helped to set up the fridge and are now in charge of running it, making it a community project all round.
The fridge is open between 8am and 8pm every day, allowing fresh food that would normally be destined for the bin to find a new home. Anyone is able to take food, and a number of local businesses have taken to making daily deposits after the day’s trading finishes.
“As a retailer you don’t want to have waste, but inevitably things go awry sometimes,” says Sheila Gore, a local business owner. “You can’t always predict fluctuations and variations so when you don’t get it right the fridge is very useful.”
A 12-strong team of volunteers checks and cleans the fridge daily, and it has a 5 star hygiene rating. No raw meat or fish is allowed to be deposited, but those who claim food are told to make their own judgements about the safety of any piece of food.
Greggs makes the largest donations to the fridge, which saw 1000 items donated in June alone. The difficulty in getting other large businesses to donate comes from the scale of the decision-making process: when national-level management are involved, it can take time for ideas to filter up high enough.
Marks & Spencer have agreed recently to donate to the fridge, and several other chains are currently in talks. This includes Co-op, Iceland, and Asda.
The fridge costs around £8 a week to run, with fees covered by the council. However, a business sponsorship scheme is being put into place to ensure that it will run for longer, ensuring that the project has real sustainability even if future council funding goes away.
The fridge could be a lifeline for those who are unable to supply their own food, and could certainly help out on weekends when other services are not available.
Spain and Frome are not the only places with solidarity fridges, although there are now 9 of these projects across Spain. Germany and India also have fridges running, while another is set to be opened in London after a successful crowdfunding venture.
“Today I may put in soup but tomorrow I take yoghurt. I think that this is the beauty of the project; everybody can do it and nobody is going to point a finger at you,” explains Ainhoa Crespo Gadea of Nevera Solidaria, the group behind the Spanish fridges.
In the United Arab Emirates, the project is even more successful, with the boost given by food waste during Ramadan. There are now over 200 fridges, kickstarted by Sumayyah Sayed whose Sharing Fridge network was inspired by poor labourers struggling in the heat.
If your food job allows you to impact food waste, consider donating to or starting a fridge in your local community.