540,000 tonnes of food fit for human consumption are discarded annually in Denmark, with the food sector accounting for 303,000 tonnes of the food waste.  

BY KAREN INGER THORSEN & HENRIK OLSEN

Karen Inger Thorsen (b. 1954) is Director of fødevareBanken. Previously she was Senior Project Manager and Centre Manager with Red Cross Denmark, where she worked primarily to facilitate labour market access for people at risk of poverty and social exclusion.

Henrik Olsen (b. 1971) is a Development Officer with fødevareBanken and was instrumental in drawing up the business plan for development of a model for fødevareBanken as a food bank with nationwide outreach. Previously, he worked on a wide range of causes within different civil society organisations.

Project: Development of a model for ‘fødevareBanken’ (food bank)

Grantee: fødevareBanken

Amount: DKK 22,650,000 from VELUX FONDEN

Over a four-year period, the food bank will be developing and quality assuring its operations in Capital Region of Denmark and establishing a new division in East Jutland. In addition, the food bank will engage in new forms of fund raising to reduce its reliance on public-sector funding and donations from private foundations.

Tonnes of food waste

540,000 tonnes of food ft for human consumption are discarded annually in Denmark, with the food sector accounting for 303,000 tonnes of the food waste. A large proportion of the foods are rejected for a variety of reasons (logistic, cosmetic etc.) as unsaleable in supermarkets even if they are still within their sell-by-date and ft for human consumption.

fødevareBanken is committed to tackling two key challenges facing society: food waste and food poverty. The food bank is the only organisation in Denmark systematically and on a big scale addressing food waste in industry, while facilitating better food for people at risk of poverty or social exclusion.

Since 2009, the food bank has received surplus food from food producers, the farming industry, supermarkets and wholesalers. It has distributed the food among organisations that work for and with people at risk of poverty and social exclusion, including children, women and men in crisis, homeless persons, substance abusers and the mentally ill.

Fødevarebanken as the stron link in the chain

fødevareBanken is the link between food businesses and non-proft and charitable organisations and has a total of more than 3,000 daily users or residents. Small-scale local arrangements between a drop-in centre for the homeless and a local bakery have always existed and will continue to do so, but when it comes to very large volumes of surplus food with more challenging requirements regarding handling and storage, fødevareBanken sets itself apart. It has the necessary expertise and capacity for food banking large volumes of surplus food systematically and safely so the food is stored and dispatched responsibly.

fødevareBanken's volunteers make a delivery to a recipient organisation. Photo: Maria Pagh

What to do with 15 tonnes of cheese?

During the Russian trade embargo in 2014, Arla Foods, the largest producer of dairy products in Scandinavia, was landed with 15 tonnes of unsaleable cheese. The volume was obviously far beyond what a ‘soup kitchen’ could safely store, and such a huge consignment of cheese would never have been consumed. fødevareBanken, however, with its refrigerated storage facilities, refrigerated delivery vans and its agreements with a large number of recipients, was therefore able to ofer to bank and distribute the cheese safely and responsibly. 

Fødevarebanken creates social and environmental value

The Danish-founded student organisation Economists without Borders performs an annual calculation of the social and environmental value of fødevareBanken's work. The message in the calculations from 2014 is loud and clear:

  • The value of the 423 tonnes of recovered food equates to the recipient organisations having purchased food worth approx. DKK 10.1 million.
  • 80% of the recovered foods correspond with the nationally recognised food pyramid's recommendations to eat most from the bottom layer (vegetables and wholegrain foods) and next from the middle layer (dairy and fruit). Of these, dairy products accounted for 41%, fruit for 17% and vegetables for 16%.
  • 423 tonnes are equivalent to the annual food waste of 4,027 families.
  • The time put in by the volunteer workers was valued at approx. DKK 1.5 million. 
  • fødevareBanken's efforts have spared the planet approx. 782 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents; the same as what an average family car would pollute if it drove around the planet about 149 times.

Volunteers pull their weight and more

fødevareBanken's volunteer drivers clock up around 35 trips a week. On some routes, they collect, sort and register the surplus items, such as at Aarstiderne (standing order home-delivery of organic fruit and veg) and deliver them to the food bank facility. On other routes, the refrigerated delivery vans are packed at the food bank warehouse and then take of on a route made up of delivery stops at 4-8 different recipient organisations. On yet other routes, collection from a food donor is combined with delivery to recipients.

The composition of the volunteer pool within fødevareBanken is somewhat atypical of a voluntary association, perhaps because of the work involved. Out of the total volunteer pool of 108 persons in Copenhagen, 63 are men aged 60+.

Creative ideas from partners

Students from the further education college in Silkeborg transformed five tonnes of cake mix into traditional Danish biscuits, apple tarts, apricot cakes, carrot cakes etc. which were distributed to homeless shelters and crisis centres. To ‘pimp’ the cakes a touch, the mix was supplemented with almonds donated by the retail giant Dansk Supermarked Group and chocolate from the world's leading marzipan makers, Odense Marcipan.

The Kofoeds School non-proft youth-housing project in Amager in the Capital Region of Denmark uses the food both for a weekly communal dinner and a weekly food & meals class in which sustainability is included as an educational resource in the youth scheme. The youths have a very tight food budget and thus cannot afford to let anything go to waste. The unpredictability of the assortment of foods ofered by the food bank is seen as an opportunity to test and develop the youths' culinary creativity and ability to combine diferent produce and ingredients. 

A record is kept of the collected surplus. Photo: Søren Jessen

Growing interest in fødevarebanken

fødevareBanken is continually focused on fine-tuning its operations, building partnerships with food donors and providing an even better service to the recipients. The organisation is registering increased interest in its work. It receives regular inquiries from potential partners all over Denmark and its mission is extended outreach with yet another regional division along the lines of the existing ones in Copenhagen and Aarhus or a new model tailored to local opportunities and challenges.