Food

Food recovery and redistribution

In many places today, huge quantities of perfectly good, edible, nutritious food goes unharvested or is thrown away, even as many people struggle with food insecurity. Food recovery and redistribution initiatives work to rectify this upside-down situation, connecting food with those who need it, and cutting down on waste and environmental pollution in the process. Despite those benefits, some food recovery work depends on a continuing waste stream from the industrial food system, and is therefore not a systemic, long-term solution. A more effective strategy is to dismantle the industrial food system and replace it with a multiplicity of localized, equitable and ecological food systems that are inherently less wasteful.

Food recovery and redistribution Actions
Get involved in gleaning.
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Get involved in gleaning.

Gleaning refers to harvesting and gathering foods that would otherwise go to waste. From city fruit trees to leftover crops on farms, the amount of food that can be gleaned is huge, and many organizations and initiatives have emerged to collect this food for local consumption. In many cases, the gleaned food is donated to local anti-hunger programs. Not only does this tap into hitherto ignored local abundance, but it helps reduce dependence on the global industrial food system.

Take action

Get inspired

  • Volunteers with Not Far From the Tree in Toronto, Canada, pick fruit from private trees all around the city and share the harvest with owners and local food banks.
  • Food Forward in Los Angeles, US, collects fresh fruits and vegetables from backyard fruit trees, public orchards, and farmers markets, and delivers it to people in need.
  • Smarta Kartan in Gothenburg, Sweden, maps out the sharing economy of the city, including public fruit trees.
  • Fallen Fruit in Los Angeles, US is an urban fruit trail highlighting 150 edible trees in one neighborhood.

Get involved in gleaning.

Gleaning refers to harvesting and gathering foods that would otherwise go to waste. From city fruit trees to leftover crops on farms, the amount of food that can be gleaned is huge, and many organizations and initiatives have emerged to collect this food for local consumption. In many cases, the gleaned food is donated to local anti-hunger programs. Not only does this tap into hitherto ignored local abundance, but it helps reduce dependence on the global industrial food system.

Take action

Get inspired

  • Volunteers with Not Far From the Tree in Toronto, Canada, pick fruit from private trees all around the city and share the harvest with owners and local food banks.
  • Food Forward in Los Angeles, US, collects fresh fruits and vegetables from backyard fruit trees, public orchards, and farmers markets, and delivers it to people in need.
  • Smarta Kartan in Gothenburg, Sweden, maps out the sharing economy of the city, including public fruit trees.
  • Fallen Fruit in Los Angeles, US is an urban fruit trail highlighting 150 edible trees in one neighborhood.
Build community fridges and pantries.
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Build community fridges and pantries.

Community fridges and pantries are usually small structures stocked by community members with free food available for anyone in need. Community fridges carry perishable foods, while community pantries focus on non-perishables like dried foods and canned goods. Both of them play an important role in neighborhood-level mutual aid and solidarity efforts.

Take action

  • Build and maintain a Little Free Pantry with The Little Free Pantries' pages of Building Guides and Pantry Host Guides, and Little Free Pantry's page of Resources.
  • Find a community fridge near you with Freedge.org's worldwide map Find a Freedge.
  • None near you yet? Start one with Freedge.org's resource page How to Start a Community Fridge in Your Neighborhood, featuring step-by-step instructions, legal guides, designs, microgrant opportunities, opportunities to connect with other community fridge operators, and more. See also Hubbub's guide Find or start a community fridge in the UK and connect with their Community Fridge Network (UK).
  • Understand the legalities of food recovery programs with the University of Arkansas School of Law's Legal Guide to Food Recovery (US).
  • If a community fridge is not legal in your area and local food banks cannot accept fresh food, set surplus produce from your garden out on a table in front of your house.

Get inspired

Build community fridges and pantries.

Community fridges and pantries are usually small structures stocked by community members with free food available for anyone in need. Community fridges carry perishable foods, while community pantries focus on non-perishables like dried foods and canned goods. Both of them play an important role in neighborhood-level mutual aid and solidarity efforts.

Take action

  • Build and maintain a Little Free Pantry with The Little Free Pantries' pages of Building Guides and Pantry Host Guides, and Little Free Pantry's page of Resources.
  • Find a community fridge near you with Freedge.org's worldwide map Find a Freedge.
  • None near you yet? Start one with Freedge.org's resource page How to Start a Community Fridge in Your Neighborhood, featuring step-by-step instructions, legal guides, designs, microgrant opportunities, opportunities to connect with other community fridge operators, and more. See also Hubbub's guide Find or start a community fridge in the UK and connect with their Community Fridge Network (UK).
  • Understand the legalities of food recovery programs with the University of Arkansas School of Law's Legal Guide to Food Recovery (US).
  • If a community fridge is not legal in your area and local food banks cannot accept fresh food, set surplus produce from your garden out on a table in front of your house.

Get inspired

Initiate a food recovery program.
Expand Action
Initiate a food recovery program.

Food recovery programs aim to tackle today's outrageous levels of institutional food waste by collecting and diverting good food from being dumped, and safely redistributing it to those in need.

Take action

Get inspired

  • The US-based Food Recovery Network started with a student who wanted to do something about cafeteria waste at his school – and is now a national nonprofit with chapters on 172 campuses in 46 states. It has recovered nearly 5 million pounds of food.
  • Transfernation in New York City brings excess, untouched food from corporate cafeterias and events to soup kitchens, churches and homeless shelters.
  • The waste in the food system even provides opportunities for small businesses. Deals & Steals in the city of Northampton, US, sells food and clothes from nearby stores that would otherwise be dumped due to a lack of shelf space, thereby offering high-quality food at affordable prices.

Initiate a food recovery program.

Food recovery programs aim to tackle today's outrageous levels of institutional food waste by collecting and diverting good food from being dumped, and safely redistributing it to those in need.

Take action

Get inspired

  • The US-based Food Recovery Network started with a student who wanted to do something about cafeteria waste at his school – and is now a national nonprofit with chapters on 172 campuses in 46 states. It has recovered nearly 5 million pounds of food.
  • Transfernation in New York City brings excess, untouched food from corporate cafeterias and events to soup kitchens, churches and homeless shelters.
  • The waste in the food system even provides opportunities for small businesses. Deals & Steals in the city of Northampton, US, sells food and clothes from nearby stores that would otherwise be dumped due to a lack of shelf space, thereby offering high-quality food at affordable prices.
Go dumpster diving.
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Go dumpster diving.

Dumpster diving is the practice of rescuing perfectly good, edible food that has been thrown out as waste by various food-related establishments (grocery stores, restaurants, supermarkets, etc.), and making it available to those in need, thereby both reducing food waste and hunger. While obviously not a systemic solution, dumpster diving is an excellent way to see first-hand and close-up what needs to change!

Take action

Get inspired

Go dumpster diving.

Dumpster diving is the practice of rescuing perfectly good, edible food that has been thrown out as waste by various food-related establishments (grocery stores, restaurants, supermarkets, etc.), and making it available to those in need, thereby both reducing food waste and hunger. While obviously not a systemic solution, dumpster diving is an excellent way to see first-hand and close-up what needs to change!

Take action

Get inspired

Voices from the field

  • In the TEDx talk How to end the food waste fiasco, food activist Rob Greenfield discusses food waste, dumpster diving, and what we can all do to get food to people who need it. He also explores what we can reduce the extraordinary amount of waste generated by the industrial food system.
Policy

  • This article by Arvind Dilawar, Community cupboards feed neighborhoods despite legal hurdles, points out that some local zoning ordinances can pose hurdles for food recovery and redistribution efforts.
  • The Legal and Policy Resources provided by the National Gleaning Project include beneficial policies – such as the Pennsylvania statutes limiting one's liability when donating food to charitable organizations – that can be replicated elsewhere.

Resources