Afridge inside a brightly painted ex-public toilet block is helping a Somerset town’s food businesses reduce their waste. “It’s gone from something a bit weird to being normal,” says Sheila Gore, owner of Frome Wholefoods.
Frome’s community fridge was launched in April 2016 after the town council’s resilience officer, Anna Francis, heard about solidarity fridges in Spain, where residents and restaurants can drop off food otherwise destined for the bin. Students from the Edventure school for community enterprise got it up and running, and one of them – Esther Deeks – now coordinates the project.
Between 8am and 8pm every day, businesses and individuals can deposit edible food that would otherwise go to waste, and anyone can take it. Gore, who is also a town councillor, is one one of several local business owners who donate to the fridge. Her staple donation is bread left at the end of a day’s trading.
“As a retailer you don’t want to have waste, but inevitably things go awry sometimes,” she says. “You can’t always predict fluctuations and variations so when you don’t get it right the fridge is very useful.”
The fridge, which has a five-star hygiene rating, is checked and cleaned daily by one of the 12 person volunteer team. Before food is donated the giver must read a set of rules, including no raw meat or fish, but ultimately the responsibility is on the person taking the food. There is a disclaimer on the fridge warning people to make their own judgements on safety.
The fridge has been rapidly growing in popularity and Francis says they have been overwhelmed by the response. More than 1,000 items were donated to the fridge in June alone and nothing stays in there for long.
The biggest daily donation to the fridge comes from the local branch of Greggs. But participation from other chains has been making slower progress than Francis had hoped, largely because of the difficulty of getting access to the people making decisions at a national level. “You really need a champion within the business,” she says.
However, some bigger retailers are coming on board as word about the fridge spreads. Marks & Spencer donates through neighbourly, a project which matches food initiatives with retailers who have surplus. The fridge team is also in discussion with the Co-op, Iceland and Asda about their local branches donating to the fridge.
The costs of the fridge, around £8 a week for the rent of the space, electricity and other costs, are currently covered by the town council. In a bid to ensure the project’s sustainability, Edventure is starting business sponsorship and a “friends of the fridge” scheme for individuals.
Wendy Miller-Williams, who coordinates local food bank Fair Frome, describes the fridge as a “lifeline” for some, particularly during weekends when referral services are closed. The fridge is complimentary to the food bank, which does not accept fresh produce.
But is the fridge just treating a symptom of a wasteful society which is leaving its poor and most vulnerable in food poverty? “That’s an argument we’ve come across a lot,” says Johannes Moeller of Edventure. “We see it as a campaign as much as a service. The fridge makes food waste visible and public.”
International solidarity fridges
Spain’s solidarity fridge network, Nevera Solidaria, has gone from strength to strength since it began in April 2015, with nine fridges across Spain and more towns planning to join. The initiative, led by a voluntary group based near Bilbao, is open to everyone in order to reduce stigma and encourage neighbourly solidarity without the need for internet or smartphones.
“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. Crespo Gadea estimates that as much as 90% of donations come from businesses such as restaurants and food shops.
In the United Arab Emirates, what began as a way to give during Ramadan with a few fridges rapidly scaled up when word spread through a Facebook group.
“It grew to 200 fridges across four Emirates,” explains Sumayyah Sayed, who developed the Sharing Fridgenetwork after watching low income construction and garden workers struggling in heat of over 35 degrees. Donations from businesses have taken off – from big corporates to small independent restaurants. For example, a cleaning company offered to clean the fridges for free and one chef reportedly cooked 175 biryanis on a regular basis for more than three weeks, on top of his regular work.
Sayed is excited about the potential of the sharing fridge movement. “Right now the whole world is in pain and it’s just lovely to see neighbours and communities coming together,” she says.