Devon now has 25 community fridges, and they help ensure that surplus food finds a home quickly – they are open to all and make good food available for free.
Following this success Recycle Devon, a partnership of Devon County Council, eight district authorities and Torbay Council, has now launched a new community map on its website to show your nearest Community Fridge.
The principal reason why the Community fridges were set up was to reduce the carbon footprint left by food production and transportation.
Although each fridge is run slightly differently, It is estimated that collectively they redistribute over 150 tonnes of surplus food, worth, almost £500,000 each year, a carbon footprint equivalent to driving over two million miles.
By making sure that this food gets eaten and doesn’t go to waste, these projects are ensuring that the embedded carbon in the food – from the energy, water and fertilizers that went into producing it – gets put to good use.
And none of this redistribution would have been possible without the strength of the community sector in Devon.
The community fridge initiative has really taken off thanks to teams of dedicated volunteers across the county who collect food, primarily from businesses, and keep the fridges running safely.
From just a few locations in 2019, there are now over two dozen with more on the way.
Sorrel from the Community Fridge in Okehampton had this message for anyone thinking that they might like to volunteer for a local project: “Volunteering for our Community Fridge has opened the door to learning new things, such as food safety and helping share surplus food with lots of people which has made me feel more connected to my community. The community fridge is developing the town’s resourcefulness – and mine too!”
Maresa Bossano who runs St Thomas Library Community Fridge in Exeter, said: “Food going to waste is a large contributor to climate change so by using the Community Fridge we all get to play our part in helping the environment.”
Community Fridges are an international phenomenon although the idea was picked up by UK based environmental charity Hubbub, primarily with the intention of making use of produce and groceries that are ‘out of date’ but still safe to eat.
The key to this is in the important difference between the sorts of dates that are generally found on supermarket food, as ‘Use By’ and ‘Best Before’ have very different meanings. ‘Use By’ is specifically a safety date and only found on the most perishable foods such as meat, fish, some dairy products and processed foods such as ready meals.
Community Fridges can’t and won’t offer any food after a ‘Use By’ date as this is a legal requirement. However, ‘Best Before’ is a quality date that is found on fruit & veg, bakery, some dairy items and other non-perishable foods which are all safe to eat after the date – yesterday’s bread, for example.
As long as food has been stored correctly and the primary packaging is intact then, with a quick visual check, this food can be made available via a Community Fridge. Some Community Fridges take contributions from households as well – such as home-grown gluts – although it’s always best to check with your local community fridge as to what they can and can’t take before dropping anything off.
The fridges are generally self-service and work on an honesty basis where it is expected that visitors only take a handful of items at most so that as many people as possible find something of interest when they visit.
Emma Croft, who runs the National Lottery funded ‘Food Rescue’ project in Devon and two community fridges as part of that.
She said: “Community fridges are a visible sign of people caring for each other and the environment within their community with the idea of sharing food with others being something that can bring people together.”
Food Rescue’ project supports the development of Community Fridges across Devon and still has capacity to develop more Community Fridges over the next 6-8 months so get in touch soon if there are people in your local area who might be interested in setting one up:
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