Editor: Judy Chen
When African culture meets Austronesian culture in fashion, what kind of sparkles will you expect? LIHIYA might give you some clues.
Food waste has become a dominant global issue especially in developed countries in recent years. According to Taiwan People’s Food Bank Association, approximately 2.75 million tons of food is wasted in Taiwan every year. The good news is that the movement against food waste is now thriving with the efforts of civic groups and individuals. One of those who devote to combating food waste in Taiwan is Stefan Simon. “Why throw away food which is still edible? Food waste is not just about food themselves, but also about the waste of water, earth, energy and labor resources that are required to produce the food,” said Simon.
From dumpster diving to Foodsharing
Simon, who hails from Germany, first visited Taiwan in 2013 for his research as a student majoring in Environmental Science. After graduation, he received a scholarship and came to Taiwan to study Chinese at National Taiwan University. While he enjoyed life in Taiwan, there was one thing that bothered him: “I am not used to buying food in supermarkets in Taiwan. Almost all my food was from Foodsharing when I was in Germany.”
He was referring to Foodsharing.de, a free online platform founded in Germany in 2012, seeking to fight food waste by saving and distributing surplus food. Collaborating with supermarkets, restaurants, and bakeries, etc, the platform enables individuals, retailers and producers to offer or collect food that would otherwise be discarded. To date, there have been 120,000 registered users.
“The concept of Foodsharing is different from dumpster diving,” explained Simon. Before he met Foodsharing, he often dumpster dived with his friends in Germany, taking non-spoiled food from waste containers outside the backdoor of supermarkets. The food was mostly well-packaged but discarded only due to the expiry date. “Many friends who joined me for the first time were very surprised that such good food was thrown away!”
However, he found that Foodsharing provides a system that can engage more people. It allows foodsavers to pick up food (if it is still edible without health risks) from businesses to distribute them through public storage places. Foodsavers need to sign a legal agreement that removes the businesses’ liability and obliges the volunteers to pass on the food for free. Simon asked himself, “If this concept works in Germany, why not in Taiwan?”
Foodsharing in Taiwan: “We have to be very careful to win the trust from the public.”
In June 2015, Simon took action. He first targeted bakeries, where unsold bread is discarded every day. “I walked the streets of Taipei, and wrote down the names of the bakeries. I Googled their contacts, and emailed them to introduce the idea of Foodsharing, but very few replied. Some bakeries said they liked the concept, but still worried about customers’ health issue. Even though I directly went into the stores, the staff were so timid and always said they had to ask their boss, and I would never hear from them again.”
Finally, introduced by a German friend in Taiwan, Simon discovered the first bakery interested in joining him —- “Oma’s German Bakery.” He translated the legal agreement of Foodsharing from German to Chinese, and asked his Taiwanese lawyer friend to revise it based on Taiwan’s laws. After the bakery and its lawyer confirmed the agreement, Foodsharing Taiwan was officially initiated.
Via social media, Foodsharing Taiwan has recruited 15 foodsavers, including four core members. Everyone takes turns to go to the bakery with the identification card to collect surplus bread, and brings it to a specific location for people to pick up. Although it doesn’t sound complicated, there are still challenges. Bakeries do not know how much surplus bread will be available for Foodsharing Taiwan until the end of the day, and sometimes their is not enough supply for everyone. Also, because this is a very manual process, if sometimes foodsavers forget a bakery pick-up, the whole system gets inconvenienced. “To win the trust from the public and all stakeholders, we have to be very careful about everything we do,” said Simon.
Public fridge: “We need more people to recognize the importance of foodsaving.”
Besides Foodsharing Taiwan, Simon also tried another approach to reducing food waste: installing public fridge. “There are more than thirty public fridges installed in Berlin. People share their leftover food in the fridges to make it available for anyone who wants it. This concept works very well either in campus areas or residential communities,” he said. Since there are many cafés around his university in Taiwan where students spend time there, he targeted those cafés for collaboration.
However, it was easier said than done: the incentive is low when the electricity fee for installing a fridge for the public becomes an extra cost for an independent café. In August 2016, Simon finally found Halfway Café which saw to his vision and agreed to support his initiative. He installed the fridge in front of the café, and created the Facebook group “Food Hub Halfway Café”. If a group member puts something new into or takes something out from the fridge, he or she is asked to take a photo of the fridge and upload it to the group so that other members would be updated with the current status. “Bread, sausages, lunchboxes, you can find all kinds of things,” said Simon.
This time, Simon runs into new challenges: fridge management. “In Berlin when people pick up food from the fridge, they also help throw away expired or rotten food inside. But in Taiwan, I have to go to the fridge once in a while to check if there are spoiled food myself.” Unlike Foodsharing users, those who use the public fridge are not obligated to sign any legal agreements, so it requires the cooperation and trust of all stakeholders to guarantee the food safety and liability.
As the food waste issue gradually attracts attention from mainstream media in Taiwan, Simon’s foodsaving efforts have also received coverage from local newspapers and TV channels, and much positive feedback from individuals and organizations. “I am happy to learn that there are also other local groups striving to fight against food waste in different ways. I hope that we can work together to engage more people,” said Simon hopefully. “Maybe the concept of sharing leftover food is still relatively new in Taiwan. To build a positive ecosystem, I think that we need more people to recognize the importance of foodsaving, and urge more food producers and retailers to join Foodsharing, or other foodsaving organizations.”
About Stefan Simon
Simon first visited Taiwan in 2013 for his master’s thesis, and obtained his master’s degree in Environmental Science at University of Münster. As a student, he regularly did dumpster diving, actively involved in foodsaving projects, and also wrote a report on peak oil with his friends. In 2015 he came to Taiwan with a scholarship to study Mandarin at National Taiwan University, and launched Foodsharing Taiwan. He tries to live more sustainable, minimalistic and resource-conserving.