‘If we decided it was our goal to reduce food waste, we’d do it’

Food waste in Iceland is not only a climate problem, says Minister for the Environment Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, it’s also disrespectful. The Minister says the Icelandic public needs to completely change its attitude towards this serious problem, and more creative solutions need to be considered to deal with it. RÚV reports.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that a third of the world’s food is thrown away. Food waste has long been a major topic of concern in Iceland; the Environment Agency in Iceland has found that 7 out of 10 Icelanders say they want to do their part to reduce food waste. Moreover, reducing food waste is one of the major prongs of the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources’ national policy on waste, which is in effect from 2016-2027. The policy is underpinned by the “ideology of the circular economy, where the priority is to reduce the creation of waste and thereby decrease the demand for finite natural resources.”

But although food waste was the first of nine focal points that this policy targeted from 2016-2017, thus far, there’s been little observable change in the actual amount of food wasted in the country over the years.


Iceland’s National Policy on Waste Timeline, 2016-2027; via the Environment Agency of Iceland

Guðlaugur Þór says it’s hard to legislate controls or punishments related to food wastage. What’s really needed, therefore, is a complete attitude shift amongst consumers, retailers, and producers—the whole chain must stand together, he says. It’s a matter of public will above all else.

“We Icelanders can be very quick to adapt to anything and everything, so if we decided it was our goal to reduce food waste, we’d do it.”

The Environment Agency’s website, Together Against Waste, is part of broader awareness-raising campaigns and includes many suggestions for ways in which individuals can do their part to reduce food waste, from taking a picture of what you have in the fridge before you go grocery shopping to cooking from leftovers to “using your nose” to determine if food is still good after its “Best By” date has passed.

One creative solution that has been suggested to aid in food waste reduction is to open stores that specifically sell food items that are approaching their “Sell By” dates.

However the issue is addressed, addressed it must be, says the minister. “One third of all food [in the world] is thrown away,” concludes Guðlaugur Þór. “We can all see that that’s unacceptable.”

Kamila and Marco are Reykjavík Residents of the Year

Two young activists whose “freedge” in downtown Reykjavík has strengthened the community and reduced food waste have been named Reykjavík residents on the year. Kamila Walijewska and Marco Pizzolato, two friends who set up a public fridge in the city centre last summer, are the recipients of the annual honour this year. The fridge is regularly replenished and emptied by members of the community.

“We think it’s great to see the project take on a life of its own. People spread the word, bring food donations, and sometimes we hear about people that have met and gotten to know each other through the fridge. We see a lot of possibility of connecting people and at the same time increasing awareness of food waste and our planet at the same time.”

One “freedge” becomes three

Kamila is originally from Poland while Marco is from Switzerland. They both moved to Iceland around two years ago. Their freedge was inaugurated on June 29 last year as part of the international movement freedge.org. Located at Bergþórugata 20 outside radical social centre Andrými, the original fridge has inspired two other freedges in the capital area, one in the Breiðholt neighbourhood of Reykjavík and another in the municipality of Kópavogur. All three fridges are well used.

This is the twelfth time that the City of Reykjavík has selected a resident of the year. As per tradition, the winners were invited to inaugurate the salmon fishing season in Elliðará river in east Reykjavík, and both Marco and Kamila caught their first salmon on the occasion.

‘We Take Food for Granted’: New Community Fridge Opens in Reykjavík

A new community fridge in Reykjavík offers free food to anyone who wants it, as well as a place to donate perishables that might otherwise go to waste. Founded by immigrants Kamila Walijewska and Marco Pizzolato, the new ‘FREEdge,’ or Frískápur in Icelandic, is located in Andrými, a radical social centre in downtown Reykjavík, and has already fostered a community of 500 people in the less than three weeks it has been operational.

Taking action locally

Before the start of the pandemic, Kamila and Marco were involved with other food sustainability and community-building events at Andrými, such as free, weekly cooking nights. Those had to stop during lockdown but have since been replaced with a free food market every Friday, which also targets food waste reduction. But with so much food still going to waste, Kamila and Marco wanted to do more. “There is not much consciousness and awareness in our society,” they explained in an interview with Iceland Review. “We take food for granted. We don’t think about the whole food chain.”

“We all have some leftovers at home or some food we realize that we do not like,” they continued. “Now there is a place to go and share it with others. Shops and restaurants have leftover food at the end of the shift which could also be saved and donated to the freedge. There will always be someone who will appreciate it.”

The name Freedge comes from an international movement of the same name, which aims to reduce food waste and insecurity through the establishment of community fridges like the one that Kamila and Marco started in Reykjavík. They got the idea during a Hackathon that they attended in the Westfjords a few months ago.

“The goal of the event was to find solutions to water, energy, or food-related problems and to help the environment in Iceland. We focused on food. During that intense weekend, we were working on a project where a chef travelled around Iceland, cooking together with locals and boosting awareness about food waste.” Kamila and Marco were inspired, but this model of awareness-raising would require more money and dedicated effort than would be sustainable in the long run. So instead, “we decided to take action locally,” they said.

A common-sense project

The freedge, located outside of Andrými. Photo courtesy of Kamila Walijewska and Marco Pizzolato

The freedge is located outside on Andrými’s property, which means that anyone can come and pick up or donate food any time they want. Kamila and Marco just ask that the house rules and residents are respected, and that people keep the freedge clean. Recent offerings have included everything from fresh fruits and vegetables (broccoli, lettuce, mangos, avocados) to chocolate and pastries and frozen French fries. The freedge is checked every other day and accepts basically all fresh produce and packaged goods, provided that the latter are unopened.

Fresh produce in the freedge. Photo courtesy of Kamila Walijewska and Marco Pizzolato
Pastries in the freedge. Photo courtesy of Kamila Walijewska and Marco Pizzolato.

“Homemade dishes are also welcome as long as they are labelled correctly (tape and pen are available) with date, donor and allergenics,” explain Kamila and Marco. “Foods that can represent a health risk if the cold chain is interrupted, like certain kinds of meat, fish, eggs or dairy are treated with suspicion and [if needed,] we inspect or remove them during our cleaning. We also check if the expiration date is ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ (there’s a big difference, and it’s very confusing for people).”

“We also feel like there is a lot of common sense behind this—it’s enough to use our senses to detect if something is either good to eat or not.”

A growing community

Although the freedge has only been operational for a few weeks, it has already been a huge success, both with members of the existing Andrými community and others. “People are messaging us, asking questions, getting involved in different ways,” say Kamila and Marco. “Word of mouth is really working. In one day, we got 200 new members on our FB group, and more are joining in every day. At the moment we have a community of over 500 people. It’s a big achievement.”

Looking ahead, Kamila and Marco believe that the project has the potential to expand considerably and are seeking to build relationships with businesses that are disposing of food that they can’t otherwise sell, but still could be eaten. “By donating their food,” they point out, these businesses “can say they are collaborating with us and therefore [foster] a better environmental image [for themselves].”

Kamila and Marco hope that more individuals will volunteer to take part in the project as it expands, helping to “pick up food from restaurants, supermarkets, or households and deliver it to the freedge.” They also hope to inspire more people to start freedges around Reykjavík and Iceland, which is, they point out, an “economically well-off country” that “has the luxury of good, healthy food available.” This “directly creates waste since the supply chain has to provide food also with margin for fluctuation of the request…Somehow more food [is] wasted because we have a tendency to buy more than we need.”

“We would like to encourage universities, offices, libraries, restaurants etc, to create their own freedges,” Kamila and Marco conclude. “We believe that in this way, we can all contribute to save food and impact our environment. It can also have a good social impact by boosting a bond within communities. We can all live healthier and happier lives.”

Find out more about the Freedge / Frískápur on Facebook, here.

After-Hours Phone Booth Bakery Opens in Stykkishólmur

An old phone booth has been creatively repurposed as an after-hours, self-service bakery in Stykkishólmur, Vísir reports. Nesbakarí owner Helgi Eiríksson came up with the idea as a way to curb his business’ food waste.

“At the end of the day, we take all the leftovers, bag them up, and take them out to the phone booth,” explains Helgi. “People can either [use online banking to pay] or pay with cash. It’s really taken off—we’ve haven’t had to throw anything out.”

Screenshot, Vísir

Depending on the day, after-hours customers might find any number of delectables in the phone booth bakery—several loaves of bread, cinnamon buns, filled doughnuts, croissants, and pastries all stocked the shelves on a recent evening.

Helgi says that all of the baked goods in the booth have generally sold by the time the bakery reopens in the morning and he’s had no issues with people abiding by the payment honour system.

Vets to Conduct Virtual Inspections as Part of Home Slaughter Pilot Program

Veterinarians will conduct their health inspections of meat over the internet as part of the new pilot project which allows farmers to slaughter at home, RÚV reports. The project is hoped to support innovation in the sheep farming industry and help farmers hold on to more of the profits from their lamb. Thirty-five farms around the country are taking part in the project. Each farm is allowed to slaughter five lambs at home.

Farmers have long called for changes to made to existing laws on home slaughter. Currently, farmers who sell meat must take their sheep to a slaughterhouse and then pay fees if they want to sell their products to the public.

See Also: Iceland to Permit Limited Home Slaughter This Fall

In addition, current regulations require a veterinarian to inspect any meat that intended for sale to the general public. Project manager Hólmfríður Sveinsdóttir says that one of the first things that needs to be done, therefore, is to determine if there’s a way for this inspection to take place remotely, as bringing a vet on-site can be costly for farmers. Online meat inspection has been carried out with varying degrees of success abroad, and there are many factors that determine how well this process works, such as the quality of the internet connection and the cameras being used.

As part of the pilot program, 19 of the participating farms will have a vet visit them to conduct on-site inspections. Sixteen will have their health inspections conducted online. Hólmfríður says that the inspection process will be the same in both cases—one will simply take place virtually. Farmers undergoing virtual inspections will take samples themselves, measuring the microbial and pH levels in the meat.

These individuals will also be responsible for ensuring that byproducts are handled correctly. Burying slaughter byproducts directly in the ground is forbidden. As the home slaughter only involves lamb, Iceland’s Food and Veterinary Authority has stated that farmers can take their byproducts to a carcass dumpster that each municipality is required to have.

Authorities will decide how to proceed with home slaughter based on the results of this pilot effort.

City of Reykjavík to Begin Collecting Organic Waste

Grundarhverfi will be the first district of Reykjavík to start separating organic waste in a pilot project which begins next month. Residents of the district are invited to a meeting tomorrow where the project will be presented. The City of Reykjavík plans to introduce separate collection of organic waste throughout the city in 2020.

While residents of Reykjavík can separate plastic, paper, metal, and glass for recycling, there is no special collection of organic waste, which instead is grouped together will landfill waste. The pilot project in Grundarhverfi will begin in November, and will give the city an opportunity to test out equipment and fine-tune the collection system.

The pilot project is expected to continue through next year, until a new composting plant currently under construction is completed. The waste collected in the pilot will be buried.

Grundarhverfi is the least populous district under the jurisdiction of the City of Reykjavík, and is located north of Mosfellsbær. Residents who participate in the project will be surveyed on their experience after the project concludes.

Reykjavík Throws Out ISK 4.5 Billion Worth of Food Yearly

It’s estimated that Reykjavík residents throw out ISK 4.5 billion ($35.99m/€32.1m) worth of food every year, Vísir reports. Food waste in the capital has been periodically tracked by the Environment Agency of Iceland. In 2016, it conducted a survey of household and business food waste in the capital; this fall, it will repeat the survey to determine how this year’s food waste levels compare.

In 2016, it was discovered that every person residing in Iceland throws away an average of 23 kilos (51 lbs) of consumable food and 39 kilos (86 lbs) of unconsumable food annually. In addition, each person living in Iceland pours out an average of 22 kilos (49 lbs) of cooking oil and 199 kilos (439 lbs) of beverages every year. There was no significant difference in how much food people wasted in different parts of the country and the overall figures were comparable to those in other European countries.

“There are a lot of uncertainties about these measurements, which can make it difficult to make comparisons,” noted Margrét Einarsdóttir, a researcher at the Environment Agency. “But the goal now is to continue developing them. There aren’t any recognised or standardised methods for measuring food waste.”

The Environment Agency received a grant from Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office, to carry out this study, and specifically asked that researchers conduct a pilot study to determine what measurements are best suited to tracking food wastage.

A thousand randomly selected households and around 700 businesses will participate in this year’s study, which Margrét says is specifically being staged in the fall, when the results are more realistic, as people are traveling less and there are fewer public holidays. Participants will be asked to weigh both the consumable and non-consumable food that they dispose of during the study period and record them in a diary. The companies surveyed will all work with food in some capacity.

Margrét says, however, that it is vital to the study that data is collected from across a wide spectrum of businesses. The last time that the survey was conducted, only 84 of the 701 companies surveyed submitted their data.“No data was received, for instance, from fisheries, fish processing plants, or companies in the dairy industry,” the 2016 survey explains.“It undeniably distorts comparisons with other countries when we’re missing data from such big and important industries.”

When asked if she had any predictions about the results, Margrét said that as a researcher, she wanted to avoid such things, but that she hopes that an increased public awareness has led people to modify their behaviours.“All you can really say is that there has been a lot of discussion about food waste over the last few months and you’d hope that it would help people to make better use of their food. Both households and businesses.”