Student blog post

The Community Fridge

A project to reduce waste by redistributing food to those who need it.

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Having used the community fridge, I am a massive fan. I was at first hesitant because I wasn’t sure of its purpose and I was convinced it was only for people more needy than myself. If you haven’t heard of it, it is located next to the Tartan Coffee house on Perth Road. After joining the Facebook page (Community Fridge), I learned its mission was to reduce waste by distributing to anyone who could use it. A noble pursuit, that deserves more praise than I can articulate. 

If you have read any of my previous blogs, you will know I have a keen interest in sustainability. With the world now shifting focus to achieving net zero carbon targets, Western Europe finally need to address the food waste epidemic.

How big is the waste problem?  The answer is ‘The problem is so big it bears belief’. In fact, the stats are so overwhelming, they nudge into boring. Here come some numbers…

The United Kingdom alone is estimated to waste 9.5 million tonnes of food per year. This is across households, hospitality and food surfaces. This is roughly £19 billion pounds of wasted food per year. Creating more than 25 million tonnes of greenhouse gases. (WARP, 2018) I confess I had to read those figures an embarrassing number of times to get my head round them. 

Using a series of national averages, I calculated this to be equivalent to 5.5 million cars driving an average of 9000 miles each per year (DEFRA,2007) (BERR Energy Trends December 2017). This is quite honestly a shocking and incredibly shameful statistic.

According to the Evidence Network on U.K. Household Food Security, 10% U.K. adults live in marginally food insecure households. Many children in the U.K also face food insecurity. UNICEF estimated in 2017 that 19% of children under the age of 15 face moderate to severe food insecurity (Borgen Project, 2017).

Clearly these two problems should not exist with their current severity. However, in 2017, 70% of the wasted food was edible. Despite this, only a minuscule amount of this waste went to charities or animal feed.

Efforts to prevent food waste remain critical in the fight to end hunger in the United Kingdom.

Thankfully this problem is being tackled in Scotland and Dundee. In 2019 the first Community Fridge was officially launched by the Gate Church Carbon Saving Project (GCCSP). It is funded with a grant from the Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund (CCF). Trying to replicate the success of Scotland’s first community fridge launched on Isle of Mull, which was able to distribute half a tonne of food per month.

However, setting up the fridge was not a simple process. In fact, it took the GCCSP 18 months from securing funding to opening the fridges doors.  Although their set-up was more complicated than most because they chose to build a purpose-built structure rather than install something in an existing building. Having used the community fridge, they reinvented a shady carpark on Perth Road into an exciting community driven project.

Photo of the community fridges with food in them.

For anyone interested in setting up their own community fridge, I have included a brief outline of the process below.

  1. Partner with the local council to lease a disused piece of land
  2. Get architectural drawings and planning permission for the structure
  3. Put in place all needed Food Hygiene and H&S policies and procedures
  4. Form partnerships with local food businesses to ensure a steady supply of donations
  5. Recruit and train a team of volunteers
  6. Open to the Public.

No matter how hard I try, the Community Fridge’s statistics will outshine any attempt at notable wordsmithing. No matter how hard I try, my wordsmith attempts  falter in the face of the Community Fridge’s excellence.

boxes of food and flowers at the community fridge

During 2020, the Dundee Community Fridge achieved the following –

  1. 78 Tonnes (78,000 kg) of food distributed
  2. More than 1,100 people benefited from the food
  3. Average of 100 visitors a day
  4. Carbon savings of 283 Tonnes CO2e
  5. Equivalent to over 184,000 meals

During 2020, a year that was dictated by the transmission rate of a novel coronavirus, the Community Fridge was a beacon of hope and support. With the Covid restrictions, students were struggling to find work. With most summer placements and summer jobs cancelled, the cost of rent and living were becoming stressful. The Community Fridge was able to support those who weren’t sure if they were going to be able to afford their next meal, feed children and make considerable carbon savings.

A local design student had this to say, “The Community Fridge has become something more than a food saving project. Now is is a big part of Dundee’s wellbeing. It helps so many local people get nutritious food, while saving money and reducing waste.” (Nikita, 2020)

When speaking to the Project Administrator, Felicity, I asked her for a quote about the Community Fridge. She had this to say, “We had no idea how much of an impact the Community Fridge would have when we opened it 12 months ago.  We’ve received over four times as much food as we’d hoped for and people tell us all the time, they are so happy that it’s there.  It’s great we’ve been able to save all this food from going to waste, but rather used it to provide food for locals in a stigma-free environment.  We couldn’t have done any of this without our amazing volunteers and the fantastic support of the local community.”

I would like to finish this blog by thanking Felicity and her team of volunteers for setting up and running this incredible community initiative. I hope that soon, community fridges can be found and accessed in every community.

Ethan Jones

Ethan Jones is a Civil Engineering student interested in sustainability and climate change.

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