Food waste in Copenhagen: how to solve the global problem?

According to the international analytical portal Numbeo, in 2019, Denmark ranked first in the ranking of countries with the highest standard of living. However, it is not uncommon to see people rummaging through garbage containers on the streets of the capital of this country. We tried to figure out how these facts relate.

by Alena Rodicheva

Photo by Alena Rodicheva

Quality of life index, 2020. Infographic by Alena Rodicheva

Global problem

Every day, a huge amount of unused food around the world is sent to the trash. According to The World Counts, 1.3 billion tons of food is lost or wasted every year. Since the beginning of September, about 50 million tons have already been lost. The food system effects on climate change, water shortages, pollution, loss of soil and many other aspects. If not to take any actions, it could collapse by 2050.

In the past several years Denmark turned into one of the leading European countries who fights against food waste, according to The Guardian. This is the result of the joint work of the government, food industry representatives and the country population. In 2018, Violeta Stancu and Liisa Lähteenmäki from Aarhus University conducted a research on consumer food waste in Denmark. According to them, the awareness of food waste among Danish consumers is very high, 85% of respondents said that they have seen or heard about food waste in the past year. Only 6% have not seen or heard anything, and 9% were unsure.

What is the Danish way to solve the problem of food waste?

Danish society fights the problem of food waste in different ways. For example, in 2016, Wefood, the world’s first supermarket with only surplus food, was opened in Copenhagen. It sells products that regular supermarkets can no longer use due to expired “best before” dates, wrong labels, or damaged packaging. This food is still safe to eat in accordance with Danish food legislation, but lost the value to the shop sharing it with Wefood for free. The range of Wefood goods varies from day to day depending on donations. These are mainly food products sold at a discount of 30-50%.

However, regular stores also try to do their best to deal with the food waste problem. Malthe Munch, associate at Fotex Food Esplanaden, explains that their shop does not throw away all the food: “We give it to farmers so they can use it in agriculture as a fertilizer for the soil. Besides, with our help they can feed their animals and not spend too much money on it. For us it is also good since our food brings benefits to somebody and does not go to dumpster”.

Fighting the problem of food waste is one of the priorities of Denmark’s domestic policy. According to Lars Boje Mathiensen, parliament member from Nye Borgerlige party, Danish society is much richer now than it was a couple of generations ago, so people are not as sensitive to food and do not try to save it as before. However, in recent years, eco-activist movements are gaining popularity, the emergence of which is associated with awareness of the threat of a global environmental disaster. This helps to build a more responsible approach to the consumption of food in Denmark.

Dumpster diving

Line Lerche Bødker is 34 years old. She lives in Copenhagen for the whole her life and works as a teacher at elementary school. Woman accommodates a modern flat with her girlfriend and 1.5 years old son. Line does not have any financial problems, but she uses to do dumpster diving. This is a movement that aims to “save” relatively fresh food (or other goods) that stores throw away for various reasons. For example, if formally the shelf life is almost or completely over, but in fact the product is still fresh enough to use, or if the packaging is damaged, and so on.

Line claims that it is her hobby: “I have never expected that I will find there so much good meat. I thought it is definitely spoiled, but it is really very good. I almost do not buy food, because I can take it for free”.

Dumpster diving is legal in Denmark, however there are different opinions on this phenomenon since it is not very safe to eat food with expired date. Also, not all shops are happy when somebody steals their property from the dumpsters. But a lot of people in Copenhagen use to do it and they join together in communities on Facebook, the number of participants of which sometimes amounts to several thousand.