Food waste: beauty is in the eye of the beholder

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In Europe, around 30% of all fruit and vegetables are discarded each year just because of their appearance. The team behind Portugal’s FLAW4LIFE project has successfully worked with farmers, consumers, volunteers, and students to cut this waste by 2 600 tonnes. This compares to the annual amount of unused food from around 13 000 people.

Through the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy, the European Commission also wants to prevent food waste. The Strategy, which is part of the European Green Deal, aims to make food systems fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly.

With Portugal having taken over the rotating presidency of the EU on 1 January, we spoke with FLAW4LIFE's Isabel Soares in Lisbon to find out more about the project. Isabel also explains how she felt when her team won the LIFE Award for Environment as well as the LIFE Citizens’ Prize.

How did FLAW4LIFE start?

A lot of people tend to only buy perfect looking fruit and vegetables. This has resulted in just 70% of this produce going to market while the rest is discarded. We wanted to fight the problem and back in 2013, we successfully tested our approach known as Fruta Feia (Ugly Fruit) in Lisbon.

We wanted to build on this success, so we partnered with Lisbon’s City Council and the Instituto Superior Técnico (IST) and applied for LIFE funding to start FLAW4LIFE in 2015.

Tell us about your approach

We opened several delivery points across Portugal. These are essentially alternative markets for quality fruit and vegetables that are discarded, just because they are small, misshaped or not the right colour. We also managed to attract more farmers and consumers to become involved.

The idea is simple. We buy the rejected fruit and vegetables from directly from the farmers and sell them on at a fair price to consumers at our delivery points.

Also, our approach means less of the water, soil and energy used to grow these fruit and vegetables is wasted.

What was the impact of your work?

I’m really happy with the results. We estimate that fruit and vegetable waste in Portugal has fallen by up to 14.6 tonnes per week.

The farms involved are now more efficient as they are maximising their use of water, energy and soil to grow their produce.

Emissions are down as there is less food decomposing into the atmosphere. The need to transport discarded food waste has also fallen.

We are now working with 262 farmers, 6 450 consumers and 950 volunteers. There are 12 delivery points located across Portugal. We have even created eight new jobs for local coordinators to ensure that the whole process runs smoothly.

By working with our partners, we have raised a lot of awareness in schools and communities on the fact that ugly fruit and vegetables are not waste.

We have also produced a handbook that contains guidelines which can be used by other countries wanting to cut their food waste.

What does winning the two LIFE Awards mean for you?

We are so happy and proud to have won both Awards and to be recognised by EASME for our work.

Winning is also an acknowledgement of the project’s success, which went far beyond our expectations.

The Awards also prove that our sustainable model, which is based on consumer commitment, actually works.

What’s next?

We will continue to open new delivery points to reach more consumers and meet the demand of the 20 000 people we have on our waiting list! We also want to work with even more farmers, buying the food they reject.

Image: LIFE14 ENV/PT/000817

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