In Copenhagen, solar-powered GoBoats chug along the canals. Locals paddle green kayaks, picking up bucketfuls of waste from the waters in exchange for free rides. At a café in the hip Nørrebro neighbourhood, I eat silky-smooth coffee ice-cream that’s made from excess steamed milk. During my time in Denmark’s capital city, I become acutely aware of how much the Danes care about sustainability.
For one, it’s seamlessly integrated into their lives. It’s palpable on the streets, thanks to the city’s cycling culture — in some neighbourhoods, pedestrians and bikers get priority; cars get only single-lane access. On rooftops too, green roofs with terrace gardens are common. At Grø Spiseri, an organic community-style rooftop restaurant, I walk along beds of sunflowers and other colourful blooms. There’s also Amager Bakke (or Copenhill), a one-of-a-kind waste-to-energy plant that opened in 2017, with designs for a ski slope and recreation centre. Copenhagen has plans to be the first carbon-neutral capital by 2025 — and undoubtedly, it’s well on its way.
Bring this sustainability-driven living together with Copenhagen’s spot on the global food map — it’s well known as a leading culinary destination — and, apart from eating sustainably, it’s obvious that the Danes would also be making major headway with combating food waste.
The first time I hear about this is when I chance upon Too Good to Go in Copenhagen (www.toogoodtogo.dk). A Danish start-up, the app launched in January 2016 and is available across Europe. It’s an incredibly nifty source, helping food stores, bakeries and restaurants sell their excess food.
Consumers get to order leftovers at reduced prices, often at least 50% below the original price. It’s a win-win sustainable situation for your conscience, your pocket, and the businesses. Similarly, there’s also YourLocal (www.yourlocal.org), another app that connects local shops with consumers.
If tech is too much, there’s the WeFood supermarket, Denmark’s first surplus-goods supermarket. The city has two outposts — one in Amager, one in Nørrebro — which stock goods that regular supermarkets can’t sell due to overdue ‘best before’ dates or damaged packaging. These are products that are safe to consume by Danish food-law standards. Instead of tossing them, partner supermarkets donate these products to WeFood, where they’re sold at rates that are often 30 to 50% below market price. (A good way to keep track of what’s in stock is by checking an outpost’s Facebook page.)
It’s not just about discounts on surplus foods though — Copenhagen’s been creative with its food waste tackles. Between 2013 and 2016, the city had Rub & Stub, a volunteer-run eatery that served food made from leftovers. “Surplus goods defined what was on the menu, but we had at least two starters, two mains and a dessert every day,” explains Maria Abrahamsen, co-founder of the now-defunct eatery, over email. Since the eatery shut, Rub & Stub has been putting their knowledge to use at city festivals, workshops and custom catering experiences. At the Roskilde Festival — the city is a 40-minute drive from Copenhagen — Abrahamsen and her co-founder Irina Bothmann are in charge of the food waste programme. “This means that we collect all the surplus food at the festival (last year, it was 20 tonnes), sort it, cook some of it and distribute all the surplus food to social organisations around Denmark. It’s an effort that’s based on a partnership with the Danish Food Bank, who are experts at distributing surplus food to social organisations,” Abrahamsen writes.
- Andersen & Maillard, a specialty coffee roaster in Nørrebro, serves coffee soft ice made from their excess steamed milk.
- Pack an easy-on-the-pocket picnic lunch with produce from a WeFood supermarket.
- Treat yourself to a five-course dinner at Grø Spiseri; it prioritises seasonal and organic produce, some of which is grown on the adjoining rooftop farm.
- Eat your way through the city with the insightful Copenhagen Food Tours (www.copenhagen.foodtours.eu).
Then, there’s the Refood label that restaurants and food companies can sign up for by pledging to focus on upcycling. For the trust-based certification, companies must choose three food-saving initiatives from Refood’s recommendations and have a system for recycling food waste. It’s a project championed by Stop Spild Af Mad — which translates to Stop Wasting Food — a non-profit organisation that’s doing important work to combat Denmark’s food waste (its partners include Too Good to Go, YourLocal and WeFood).
UN statistics suggest that the global population will reach 9.8 billion by 2050, which means food production will have to increase drastically to meet that demand. For organisations like Stop Spild Af Mad, reducing food waste lands among the main focus areas. It can seem overwhelming, but Abrahamsen recommends starting small: “Make an effort in planning your meals and shopping. Make sure you know and remember what you have in the fridge, and make the content the defining factor of what to cook and eat.”