Milan, Italy: A City Fighting Food Waste and Hunger, and Winning
Milan is known for its majestic Duomo Cathedral, the La Scala opera house, Sforza Castle, and now a model for how today’s cities can mitigate food waste and hunger. Whenever I talk to people about providing incentives to restaurants and grocery stores to give away good food rather than toss it into the trash, the first response is always, “but they’ll get sued!” The response is understandable. The U.S. is famous for litigation.
But we can change that. Cities can create policies and systems that shift food from landfills to those who are hungry. In the U.S. about 1:6 people face food insecurity every day, meaning they don’t know where or when they’ll get their next meal. As someone who grew up below the poverty line and received government-sponsored financial food assistance from WIC and the school free lunch program as a kid, fighting hunger is a cause that is close to my heart.
Milan is an example U.S. cities can look to for solutions that reduce food waste—a massive issue in the climate change puzzle—and reduce hunger and food insecurity. Milan created a city-wide reward system for restaurants, cafes, and stores who give away food to people who need it via city food hubs. These businesses drop off perfectly good food that they would have thrown away that is then redistributed to people who need it who live in the same areas of the city where these businesses operate. This means very little transport is required for the food and people who need it can easily get to it, making more of the food viable for quick and easy redistribution—particularly for highly perishable items.
So how’s it going? The metrics are encouraging. The hubs are saving 130 metric tons of food per year (~770 kilograms per day). That equates to ~260,000 meals. From a climate perspective, 497 metric tons of CO2 are avoided in the production and disposal of this re-distributed food each year.
But it doesn’t end there: the food hubs also serve as community centers. Hungry families also often need additional services such as legal aid, mental health support, language tutoring, and childcare assistance. The food hubs connect hungry individuals and families to other services that can help them live full, healthy, and productive lives.
The beauty of this model is that it doesn’t have to be unique to Milan. Any city in any country could adopt it. Milan happily makes all of its plans and metrics for the hubs public. They want other places to see what they’ve done and then do the same for their own residents and businesses. While these hubs don’t mitigate all food waste and they don’t feed every hungry person, they are and can continue to be an important part of a holistic solution to create societies with zero waste and zero hunger. What’s needed more than anything is the will and collaboration to make it happen.