Community Refrigerators Are Packed with Delicious Produce for All!

Building bridges between people with food to share, and those who can use it.

Feb 22, 2020

Imagine if you could walk into a local community center, open a refrigerator door and grab some free fresh food (or add some you don’t need), making new friends along the way. While this may sound like a dream, in several cities throughout the world, tapping into a collective fridge to retrieve or deposit free food while meeting new people is a reality. These are not food banks, but a way to be part of the solution to healthy, usable food ending up in landfills, while sharing unused food with whoever needs it. And this is a growing trend!

A doable solution to both food insecurity and food waste

Community or “solidarity refrigerators”, as they are often called, enable companies, restaurants, and individuals to drop off uneaten food instead of throwing it out. Once the food is in the communal fridge, individuals can swing by and grab something delicious to munch on or to cook with completely free of charge. 

Hubbub is an exciting UK charity working to inspire healthier, greener lifestyles across fashion, food, homes and neighborhoods. It created The Community Fridge Network there in 2017, that has so far launched 80 community fridges in the UK.  Amazingly, it is set to more than double that total in 2020. This charity wants to repurpose the estimated 13 billion pounds worth of food getting needlessly wasted in the UK alone every year.

Community fridges are not just about relieving food insecurity and opening up access to fresh food – they are there to reduce the environmental cost of food waste, a major contributor to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, since it releases methane when dumped in landfills. Food waste is a major social, environmental, and economic issue, with a global cost of $750 billion per year according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Community refrigerators prevent waste, as they equip distributors, retailers, and others with a consistent and central place to give away unused produce. In fact, according to Hubbub, each fridge saves half a ton of food per month, and a reported 780,000 kg of food has already been redistributed in the UK, reaching approximately 12,000 people!

These refrigerators can often be found in community centers, churches, organic markets, non-profit organizations, and other locations that make it convenient to drop-off or pick-up food.

Promoting a healthier diet with ease

By enabling food-sharing, such refrigerators support individuals who can’t always afford healthy produce. These refrigerators have begun popping up in the UK and other countries over the past few years to increase access to nutritional food, reports We Forum.

The Food Academy, an organization working to improve health issues such as diabetes and obesity through diet and exercise, hosts a community refrigerator in East London. 

According to We Forum, Manaza Nasa, a volunteer at the Food Academy noticed that the refrigerator encouraged healthy eating in the community since nutritious food, usually more expensive than processed food, suddenly became much more accessible. “There's more awareness about healthy eating as well because the food and veg that is donated to us is very healthy.”

Model examples of community sharing AND building

Beyond the social, environmental and health benefits that community refrigerators provide, an underlying and perhaps hidden resource is that of community engagement.

Many of the fridges are placed in central locations, and therefore bring together neighbors of various backgrounds who bond over the collective food-sharing experience. 

Trewin Restorick, founder and CEO of Hubbub explains: “The fridges not only save valuable food, they help bring people together and have become real community hubs. They have developed to be positive, social spaces...”  These encourage a spirit of sharing, strengthening community bonds and activities.

That is because with the shared refrigerator model, anyone can feel ownership and freedom to take without having to ask. This helps individuals seek assistance without feeling as though their dignity is compromised. With a shared refrigerator everyone is equal, and everyone has equal access to its resources. 

Community refrigerators can be found in cities such as Paris, Jerusalem, Bilbao, Buenos Aires, and many more. While each one is packed with its own unique flavor, they all unite around food security, healthier eating, waste recovery, and community-building, and so are a win-win solution! 

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HILLA BENZAKEN, CONTRIBUTOR
Hilla Benzaken is a dedicated optimist. Her happy place involves cooking, acting, gardening, and fighting for social justice. She writes about all things sustainability, innovation, and DIY.