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Can public procurement be a leverage for local food transition?

Can public procurement leverage local food transition - COVER

Discover how cities have taken on the challenge to push for more organic, local and sustainable food systems.

URBACT cities and networks have been very active in the development of innovative approaches and solutions when it comes to public procurement and gender-sensitive responses. Their practical insights and experience are told in the different modules of the Strategic Public Procurement Online Course. Some municipalities have also taken advantage of it to re-think the ways we produce, distribute and consume food. Read on to see how cities are taking matters into their own hands.

Food procurement relates to the provisioning of food, via catering services (with or without supply), canteens, and vending machines. It targets the public sector and sectors managed by public authorities: school and childcare centres, health and welfare centres (including hospitals), senior or retirement homes, and public administrations.

Food Public Procurement: what and why?

Paying attention to the way this food is purchased by public authorities is crucial.  The overall environmental impact of the food system is undeniable: it contributes to 1/3 of GHG emissions globally and drive up socio-economic and health inequalities. In addition, within the agricultural sector in Europe, livestock farming is responsible for 78% of biodiversity loss and 81% of global warming. Food waste of the catering sector is also estimated to account for 14% of all EU waste, accounting for almost 12.5 million tonnes. Energy produced effectively by the catering sector could, for example, achieve savings of more than 20% leading to a saving of EUR 95 million (80 million GBP) per year and reducing national energy consumption by over 4 000 million kWh per year.

In terms of economic impact, the current food system sustains unfair working conditions practices for farmers and their respective difficult to access land and to sustainable production. Not to mention the working conditions of migrant workers. With regards to the fact that, on average, 85 million meals are catered every day in the EU (over 50% through contract catering), and that there are about 3.7 million vending machines in Europe that are run by around 10 000 different companies (mostly SMEs and family businesses that employ directly more than 85 000 people and many more in supportive industries), sustainable food procurement in public institutions provides an enormous potential to push market demand for greener products.

In terms of social and health-related impact, the current mainstream food system has led to a higher risk for disease and mortality in Europe: unhealthy diets are responsible for 49% of cardiovascular diseases, with an estimated annual cost of EUR102 billion for health systems and society; and with 16-22% of EU school-age children are overweight, 1/4 of them are obese. Last but not least, 36.2 million people, including children, cannot afford a quality meal every second day, which could be compensated by healthy school meals to a certain extent.

As such, using food procurement strategically can impact the whole society directly. First by promoting the purchase of certified (ideally organic) products, seasonal products, reducing the called “food miles”, and reducing packaging and food waste. Procurement can lower pesticides and antibiotic residues in food air and water pollution and greenhouse emissions. Then by promoting the purchase of certified (ideally fair trade) local products. Procurement can support the fair retribution of producers, boost local economy and employment, supporting local entrepreneurship and innovation, increase or convert organic production. And finally, by promoting the purchase of sustainable products and healthy meals and raising awareness. Procurement can contribute to the reduction of obesity, health problems, boast local communities’ prosperity and wellbeing.

The EU Framework for Sustainable Food Procurement

When addressing food procurement, the first strategic frameworks which come to mind are those related to the EU (green) Public Procurement: the EU public procurement directive, the EU Green Public Procurement criteria, the Communication on public procurement for a better environment, Public Procurement for a Circular Economy. Good practice and guidance, and the  Food & catering – GPP Product Sheet.

Yet, Food Procurement can also rely on a range of other EU initiatives, to further develop innovative solutions:

  1. European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork Strategy
  2. The Action Plan for the Circular Economy, the EU waste directive, the EU Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy, the Directive on single-use plastics, and the Directive on packaging and packaging waste
  3. The EU Strategy on nutrition, overweight and obesity-related health issues
  4. Food 2030 research and innovation policy framework

Key URBACT cities’ solutions

Some URBACT cities have been exemplary in seeking to identify practical solutions for the transition of their food procurement processes. Below some city cases:

Engaging users and the market in Liège

The city of Liège (BE), partner in the BIOCANTEENS#2 Transfer Network developed a strong knowledge of their local producers, while adapting the needs of their local canteens to their local offer. The city starts all its tendering processes by an analysis of the needs with the food users, such as canteens managers and cooks: products used, their quantities, frequencies and other relevant factors. The research then focuses on local producers and enterprises that could potentially respond to these needs, leading to drafting specifications corresponding to both needs and offer.

Market engagement also enables the city to build the capacity of the market to meet their requirement(s), inform on the design of the procurement and contract, and help suppliers to submit quality bids. This process also tests the maturity of the market, the feasibility of the procurement, the level of technical and product innovation, the type of exiting composition and the concern about sustainability. Once the city is certain that producers can deliver healthy and diversified meals, the tenders integrate a new selection criteria.

It is important to note that market engagement is legally possible under Article 40 of Directive 2014/24/EU, provided that legal consideration are taken into consideration, as transparent and non-discriminatory process, not providing unfair advantage, keeping a record of all market engagement activities, giving equal access to all suppliers and treat all suppliers equally.

Training, supporting, monitoring and control in the Region of Brussels-Capital

The Region of Brussels-Capital (BE), was the Lead Partner of the URBACT II Sustainable Food in Urban Communities Network, which designed a complete training and support for school canteens and caterers: awareness-raising for future catering professionals, pilot projects with catering companies, training schemes, support with communication tools and equipment, and access to a help desk. This scheme is linked to the Good Food labelling of canteens, part of the Region Sustainable Food Strategy – the Good Food Strategy that is now in its second version.

The Region also published detailed Guidelines for canteens which stress the importance of control and monitoring, in order to ensure that the contractor commitments are respected in the delivery of contracts. It can take the form of an administrative monitoring (e.g. on a trimester basis), as well as -surprise (bi-)monthly check at the place of production (in case of on-site production). A third check is only necessary if there is any doubt about a possible problem. The guidelines also distinguish canteens with food prepared on the spot or delivered, describing criteria in concrete details and technical clauses.

Combining procurement solutions for more sustainability in Torres Vedras

As part of its Sustainable School Food Programme, which aims to provide healthy school meals in a social, ecological and sustainable way, the city of Torres Vedras (PT) a partner of the BioCanteens original Transfer Network looks out at food procurement concerns for its municipal kitchens, which prepare 1 400 meals per day. The city seeks to purchases raw food material exclusively and directly from local producers and suppliers, with the following combined solutions:

  1. Lots for raw food material: organic fruits, conventional fruits, organic vegetables, conventional vegetables, meat, fish, grocery, bread and eggs.
  2. Decision criteria applicate a percentage for: price, samples for quality evaluation, technical data sheets of the products, freshness related to the food transport time (minutes).
  3. Mandatory conditions for supply: bulk products (if applicable), specific capacity of the suppliers, and replacement of non-acceptable products by quality issues.
  4. Mandatory documents: price, products data sheets, document to evaluate freshness through the distance of the food production/storage.

Indeed, the 2014 Directives allow contracting authorities to both: exclude companies from tendering for not meeting certain conditions (exclusion criteria); and select the most suitable companies to bid based on technical ability and previous experience in relation to the subject matter of the contract (selection criteria).

Creating a whole food ecosystem using procurement as a lever in Mouans-Sartoux

Mouans-Sartoux (FR), is a flagship URBACT city that has achieved and shared its secret recipe for years now, especially as the Lead Partner of both editions of the BioCanteens Transfer Networks. As part of its overall transition, it has used procurement as a main tool to ensure the coherence of its entire food ecosystem. By combining lots, market engagement, use of labels, weights and criteria, in its tenders it has sought the pave the way and leading role cities can play. Yet, procurement is only one of the tools used to this end, and the dynamics go beyond food itself (see the image below). The experience of this city has been told using different formats (kitchen micro-good practices, Education Micro-good practices, set-up of a Maison de l’Alimentation Durable, among many others) and stories.

What if my city wants to go further?

Then above-mentioned examples are all accessible for interested readers to consult. And the cities that were used as examples for this article will undoubtedly be happy to share more about their experience. Other material can be found as part of the StratKit Interreg Baltic Sea project, the EU Food Policy Coalition paper on sustainable public procurement of food, and, the Manifesto for establishing minimum standards for public canteens across the EU.

Last but not, least, URBACT will carry on the debate and reflections on the subject of food procurement in the course of this year. So, stay tuned and be sure to check the URBACT Knowledge Hub!

Reposted from the URBACT website

From URBACT to ASToN: how cities can ensure sustainability of their work beyond the network

This article follows an in-depth talk we had in December with the ASToN cities sharing lessons from the URBACT programme. URBACT has funded 162 EU networks and over 1000 cities since 2002 and inspired the creation of the ASToN network.

This article shares case studies and key takeaways from the URBACT programme about how cities should approach sustainability of their projects, and begin planning life after the ASToN funding.

Data has shown that 21% of 190 surveyed cities funded by URBACT between 2012 and 2019 have approved their Integrated Action Plan (known as the Local Action Plan in the ASToN network), whereas 27% are currently in the process of getting approval. 18% explain they are about to approve it, whereas 34% are not clear about it.

At the closing of the Action Planning Networks, has the IAP been adopted© Study on integrated action plans

In addition, 48% of the surveyed cities have secured funds for the implementation of the Action PlanP: more than half from the city’s own or other local resources. Yet, it is unclear whether it was secured before or after the planning of the specific actions. Beyond this generic data, limited quantitative data actually exists on what has happened to the networks after their URBACT life.

Here are two examples providing more insight into the varied experiences of URBACT cities in approving and implementing their action plans.

Case 1: the Region of Brussels Capital’ Good Food Strategy

Sustainable Food in Urban Communities ©Brussels

Whereas the Region of Brussels Capital, in Belgium, had been working in an unstructured way around the questions of sustainable food, since 2008, it became the Lead Partner of the Sustainable Food in Urban Communities network in 2012 (until 2015). Together with 9 other cities, it sought to transition towards low-carbon and resource-efficient urban food systems, while focusing on the whole food chain: production, distribution and consumption.

Its Action Plan designed 6 actions, all of which were completed and led to the co-design of the Good Food Strategy, the Sustainable food and Urban Agriculture Strategy. Since then, the methodology used for the co-design has been improved and a new Good Food Strategy (v. 2.0) is under way.

Case 2: The City of Schaerbeek’s work on Public Procurement

Making Spend Matter © Preston

The City of Schaerbeek, Belgium, was part of a network focusing on Public Procurement, led by Preston (in the UK), with 5 other cities, Making Spend Matter. Between 2018 and 2021, Schaerbeek learnt from Preston on the ways to use spend analysis as an evidence tool: to enhance the impact of procurement by public and anchor institutions and to bring additional economic, social and environmental benefits to the local economy and its citizens.

Because of a lack of resources, Schaerbeek has not implemented the 20 actions of its Action Plan yet. Yet, it has carried out its spend analysis and designed a strategy for improving its Public Procurement. It has also become a member of an International network of cities working on Public Procurement, Procura +.

Based on these two cases in particular, and many other experiences observed and analysed throughout the years we have identified the following takeaways:

1) The key legacy is the methodology

The URBACT methodology, focusing on integration, participation and transnational exchange and learning has been a key gamechanger in the way the cities work. This includes:

● Learning to co-create with a variety of stakeholders, starting from the identified needs rather than administrative or political push (e.g. in Brussels’ case, for the first time all stakeholders gathered to discuss local food policies and remain the core of the Food Council) ;

● Developing transversality of administrations and the ability to work beyond silos (e.g. in Schaerbeek, the Local group was composed of civil servants from different departments who keep on working together);

● Nurturing learning and exchange amongst peers, if not transnationally, at least regionally and/or nationally (see below the roles of networks);

▪ Promoting and supporting (social) innovation within their constituencies and within the administrations themselves (transparency being a key challenging learning for Brussels and Schaerbeek: Brussels is evaluating and improving the process and content of its Good Food Strategy every 2.5 years); and,

▪ Keeping an integrated approach to local policies’ design and delivery, while developing adequate capacities and skills (e.g. Schaerbeek is investing in trainings for the Funding unit, then available transversally to all civil servants)

Schaerbeek’s Local Group composed of members of different municipality department © Schaerbeek

2) Creating an action plan provides a strategic push

Another key outcome of the participation in such networks has been development of the action plan: both as a process and as an output. Indeed, it has served in many instances as a driver for integrated sustainable development in cities. It has helped them become more systematic in approaching an issue (e.g. the Brussels’ Good Food strategy). More importantly, these are seen as living documents, adjusted iteratively on an on-going basis in parallel with the evolving needs, priorities and resources.

TechRevolution Transnational Meeting in Piraeus ©Marcelline Bonneau

3) Seek out other network and funding opportunities

As a follow-up from taking part in such networks, cities have also participated in other European projects and networks. At the individual level, civil servants are increasingly interested in being part of such approaches and see the added value of further learning and exchanges (e.g. a recently carried out study with the municipality of Schaerbeek showed an unexpected high level of satisfaction from participating in Making Spend Matter and the wish to continue investing such working experiences). At the institutional level, some cities have designed specific strategies to further work with other European cities. For example, the URBACT experience has comforted Schaerbeek in drafting a Strategic note on European projects (including a SWOT and some concrete solutions) as well as an opportunity study.

Cities are also developing competences for looking for EU funds, putting together proposals, applying for these funds and implementing successful projects. This also includes having a clear vision of the timing for calls (notifications and deadline) and necessary human and financial resources.

4) Individuals play a key role in ensuring continuity

Following-up on such networks has also been possible only through the commitment and involvement of key people. Civil servants are at the forefront, they can act both as a leverage for their elected representatives and other stakeholders, and to ensure the continuity, e.g. in the implementation of strategic plans.

Elected representatives from different levels of governances are also crucial to support the follow-ups, to promote them more widely. Importantly as well, they can use follow-ups as self-praising, which is then a win-win for the implementation (e.g. in the case of Brussels, the Ministry of the environment made the Good Food Strategy one of her greatest achievements even though she was nominated only after the URBACT network).

Last but not least, stakeholders need to be engaged in the follow-up the same way, even if not more than in the Action Plandesign: they are crucial to co-design the actions, co-implement them and also be their ambassadors and take-up while supporting and promoting.

URBACT Boostinno meeting in Paris © Marcelline Bonneau

5) The power of keeping in touch

After networks like URBACT or ASToN, it is of utmost importance for cities to remain in contact with each other. This is quite successful in an informal way, at the level of individuals, via Facebook, Whatsapp, Linkedin and emails. At a more institutional level, Twitter is also efficient. Communities of practice (e.g. via Slack — see the TechPlace community and via LinkedIn groups — see the Walk’n roll cities and Gender Equal City groups) are also successful.

Beyond this direct networking, cities can keep on meeting and exchanging while taking part in various events — both as participants and speakers. National and international networks, either generic (e.g. ICLEI, Metropolis …) or thematic (e.g. Cities Coalition for Digital Rights , Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, …) ensure cities keep on exchanging amongst each other, in an enriched way, beyond their initial network.

URBACT City Lab in Brussels © URBACT

Some final considerations

Life after a network such as URBACT or ASToN can be very smooth or complex, depending on the city context. Political support might ensure the follow-up of the activities but evolving local priorities and/or available human and financial resources can be barriers for continuation.

Continuing the work requires changing the way the administration works, which is a long and never-ending process. It requires transparency, honesty, and humility. It requires frontrunners. Individuals who will keep using the methodology, keep driving to implement the action plan, will seek out other funding, will ensure continuity, and will continue to build a wider community of sustainable and inclusive cities.

Article reposted from ASToN’s blog (French version here)

Let’s talk about food!

Bringing EU and local policies closer to each other.

URBACT has been a strong supporter of local and sustainable food production in cities. The programme backed-up the 2021 Glasgow Food Declaration, reinforcing the COP26 commitments of local authorities. This is merely an example of how URBACT cities are using international and European frameworks as enablers for local actions, to promote sustainable food systems.

At the same time, legislative frameworks can also be perceived as barriers by city-practitioners. European towns and cities need to learn to navigate initiatives such as the Farm to Fork Strategy, not to mention complex regulations related to public procurement. So how can they make the most of these rules and commitments, ensuring a positive transition towards more sustainable food systems? This was the issue explored by city representatives and experts at the recent 2022 URBACT City Festival session ‘Let’s talk about food: bringing EU and local policies closer to each other’. Read on for their answers…

From the international to the local context

We need to act locally to reduce climate change through local food systems – as shown in a previous article  ‘Cities nurturing local food systems to fight climate change’. The effects of the whole food supply chain on the environment, society and economy have implications for every aspect of our lives, might as be the climate, our health, the socio economics of our cities, city autonomy or rural areas’ survival. The Glasgow Food Declaration(link is external) stresses the obviousness of the food-climate nexus for urgently transforming the “traditional” and most current way we produce, transport, eat and dispose of food worldwide. These effects have been very exposed during the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition, the current war in Ukraine has exacerbated tensions on intensive production and energy prices(link is external).

In parallel, the EU Farm to Fork Strategy is at the heart of the European Green Deal and it aims to make food systems fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly. As a strategy from the European Commission, this initiative will propose a legislative framework for sustainable food. While learning from the Covid-19 pandemic, the Commission will also develop a contingency plan for improving food supply and food security in the future. At the moment, the transition of the food system can be achieved using EU trade policies and international cooperation instruments.

Moreover, the EU Food 2030 research and innovation policy supports the transition of urban food systems. The FoodTrails project, for example, received strong support to roll out the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact’s across Europe. This pact stands for a collective commitment to integrated urban food policies, bringing measurable and long-term progress towards positive change. Last but not least, cities’ use of public procurement is bound by a Procurement Directive, controlled by DG GROW, which aims to support free market and competition, fairness and transparency.

‘Let’s talk about food’ panel during the 2022 URBACT City Festival.

We need to take the leap towards sustainable food systems

“There is a missing word in the name of the Farm to Fork Strategy. That is ‘sustainability’”, said Gilles Pérole, Deputy Mayor of Education for the city of Mouans-Sartoux (FR), father of Mouans-Sartoux’s sustainable food project and godfather of the URBACT Networks BIOCANTEENS #1 and #2, during the URBACT City Festival debate. Indeed, the panelists stressed the crucial importance of not reinforcing the food supply chain in itself based on mere economic and competitiveness values, but to rethink the meaningfulness of the whole system.

We need to adopt a holistic approach to make sense out of it, to actually improve it for the benefit of the entire society. In one single word, we need to make it sustainable. For this, cities need a clear vision and local commitment. Signing the Glasgow Food Declaration and joining the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact is a good place to start. They are both a symbolic and practical engagement to this cause.

Horizontal (across silos) and vertical (multi-level) integration

Yet somehow, “food policies are a way for cities to reach their climate and social ambition” said in the same occasion Anja de Cunto(link is external), Eurocities’ Project Coordinator and Policy Advisor for the topics of food and procurement[1]. “It is not something new but it requires coordination across many areas of work and across all levels of governance”, she added. As analysed in a previous article, an integrated ecosystems is paramount.

Landscape planning and rural-urban connection

Jorge Brito, Lead Partner of the URBACT Food Corridors network, is also the Intermunicipal Executive Secretary of the Region of Coimbra (Portugal), working with 19 municipalities. His region has a global vision that takes into account each city’s goals, local context and realities.

These realities change very quickly across the Region of Coimbra: from mountains to the seaside, through forest and countryside. As Jorge Brito explained at the URBACT City Festival, this is where a key challenge lies: “We need to reconnect ourselves, to get a broad sense of the landscapes in which we evolve: cities are totally disconnected from rural life and forgot the curial role of forest”. As such, the Region of Coimbra is addressing a wider framework for climate change, making the link between different functions of landscapes such as forestry and the food system.

For Andrea Patrucco, representing the Urban Innovative Actions OpenAgri project, the URBACT NextAgri network, FoodTrails, the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact and the Milan Rural Metropolis,we need to increase the links with local farmers. He pointed out the distance of the Farm To Fork Strategy in this regard, “the reality of farmers does not correspond to what the Strategy seeks to promote. Indeed, as often, it seems both too vague but also too limiting”. As such, he adopts a bottom-up approach to make most out the strategy at local level, to ensure addressing to the best the needs of local farmers, for example in the Milano Metropoli Rurale Agreement (AQST).

Canteen’s staff in BioCanteen’s project partner, Wroclaw (Poland).

The importance of canteens and healthy diets

When talking about sustainable food system, Gilles Pérole, Andrea Patrucco, Jorge Brito and Anja de Cunto have always referred to the key roles of canteens to address a plurality of objectives. For of all of them, the canteens s are enablers.

First of all, they can provide better quality food, and healthier diets, but only when there is political will and support to move in this direction. The canteens also reflect and respect the local conditions, as in the case of the Region of Coimbra, where the meals and recipes are adjusted, depending on the local cultural context (e.g. seaside vs. mountains).

Secondly, they are a safe space for the change of behaviour, with wider impacts on society like changing diets towards more plant-based meals. The city of Milan was able to push for more veggie options while changing its procurement procedures. At last, canteens promote the reduction of food waste – with direct consequences in terms of economic and environmental impacts, but also when it comes to changing the mindset of local people. The city of Mouans-Sartoux has developed a whole range of micro good practices in this regard.

Food exception in public procurement

Public procurement can be perceived as both a real and phantasmagoric hurdle to develop more sustainable food systems, due to both the restrictions of the procurement directive and the lack of knowledge, capacity and flexibility of local administrations. Mouans-Sartoux has sought to increase the potential of public procurement via a pre-assessment and market research, as well as division of its procurement in lots – ensuring that smaller local producers could actually answer the calls. The city also worked on the criteria to give a higher weight to the freshness criterion. In Milan, support to shorter food supply chain has been achieved through the Minimum Environmental Criteria (Ministry of the Environment Decree of 10 March 2020) in for the Green Public Procurement: it introduced priorities for public purchases of schools, universities, prisons, hospitals and public offices’ canteens for short supply chains and local food – zero kilometer – if it is produced organically.

Yet, as Gilles Pérole, explains and claims regularly, “we need a food exception, equivalent of a cultural exception, but in the food area”. Creating such an exception would open the door to reduce inequalities that are widening between territories, while also providing unprecedented flexibility.  It would give a new chance to agricultural stakeholders who produce, process and develop foodstuffs that are in demand for inhabitants and decision-makers. As such, he is calling for a Food exception in Public Procurement, which all cities can sign. It is crucial to realise though, as Anja de Cunto stressed, that the current procurement framework does not enable such an exception.

Talking, sharing, demonstrating

In conclusion, to further work on the issue and public procurement, Anja de Cunto, highlighted that “it is the time to make the voice of cities heard to develop a future EU food system that is sustainable and guarantee quality food to everyone.” Cities should showcase and shout loud and clear what they are already doing – notably in terms of public procurement – and feed it into the EU policy making process. Exchanges and information sharing should be reinforced with the European Commission to show the opportunities and solutions that are already available. Groups of experts combining different governance levels should be set up. Reason why the work of the upcoming Urban Agenda Partnership on Food, in 2024, will be key.

It’s time to act!

You can…

☞ sign Un Plus Bio and Mouans Sartoux’ Opinion Column for a Food Exception in Public Procurement here
☞ learn more about the best ways to use Public Procurement via the URBACT Online Training on Public Procurement available for free here.
☞ sign the Glasgow Food Declaration.
☞ check out the learnings from all Food-related URBACT networks on the Food Knowledge Hub.

And last, but not least, you can join the movement of European cities engaged for food sovereignty and food democracy during the first edition of the…Mouans-Sartoux Food Forum A table! on 26-28 September 2022.

In addition to visits of Mouans-Sartoux’s food project, debates, exchanges and workshops will be organised around the following three key topics:

  • Building a European food sovereignty the protects people’s health and the planet
  • 100 % organic school canteens across the EU: it is achievable!
  • For a food exception in the EU’s Public Procurement framework


Reposted from the URBACT website

Six solutions for city authorities to help us all waste less food

Each year, EU households throw away millions of tonnes of food. What can cities do to support the fight against food waste?

Approximately 20% of all food produced in the EU is wasted, leading to annual emissions of 186 million CO2, writes Antonio Zafra, Lead Expert of the URBACT FOOD CORRIDORS network, in a recent article, drawing on figures from the European Environment Agency. So, with more than 50% of that food waste coming from households– on average, 47 million tonnes a year – what actions can local authorities take to help us limit and prevent this waste? And how is URBACT supporting them? URBACT Programme Expert Marcelline Bonneau investigates…

Globally, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that a third of all food produced for human consumption each year is lost or wasted. This corresponds to 1.3 billion tonnes of food wasted every year in the world, worth a total of 750 billion dollars – equivalent to the GDP of Switzerland. At the European level, this accounts for 89 million tonnes of food annually, corresponding to approximately 179 kg per capita per year (throughout the whole supply chain).

Although getting precise data is extremely difficult, we do have some figures. In the Region of Brussels-Capital (BE), for example, it is estimated that households waste an average of 15 kg of food per person per year, the equivalent of three meals a day for 30 000 people over the course of one year.

Why do we waste so much at home?

The reasons for wasting food are strongly connected with all daily activities: shopping, cooking, eating, sorting out waste, but also working, having hobbies and leisure activities, or moving around in the city, as presented in the image below:

Activities related to wasting food

These can also be explained as follows:

  • We are dependent upon production and consumption systems:
    • Available information (e.g. expiration dates, promotions…);
    • Food culture (e.g. providing large quantities of food to guests, understanding of food safety and aesthetics, “cheap” food…);
    • Available products (e.g. types of products, packaging…);
  • Daily habits:
    • Personal meaning (e.g. culinary traditions, not eating the same thing twice);
    • Knowledge and competences (e.g. being able to cook, improvise, knowing the content of the fridge and cupboards, anticipating…);
    • Appliances (e.g. for storage, transformation…);
  • Personal influences:
    • Capacities (e.g. professional framework, frequency of shopping…);
    • Life experiences (e.g. available time, family, tiredness…);
    • Values (e.g. enjoying eating outside, feeling guilty…).

Six tips for cities fighting food waste

Against this background, certain URBACT cities have sought to carry out a range of activities and initiatives to support households in reducing their food waste. Drawing on their experience, here are six solutions to inspire any town or city to do the same:

1. Know the food waste facts

First and foremost, it is vital to measure food waste in households in order to design adequate policy actions and instruments (see solution 2, below). But it can be extremely difficult to design adequate methodologies to ensure household food waste is monitored regularly, to collect comparable data, etc. Yet, some URBACT cities have managed to develop useful frameworks. Bristol, UK partner in the URBACT network Sustainable Food in Urban Communities, developed an approach based on food-waste hierarchy principles, underpinned by Bristol City Council’s ‘Towards a zero waste Bristol’ strategy in 2016, leading to measurable successes in food-waste reduction.

Ghent (BE) also conducted a food-waste benchmarking study to track goals, and all waste diverted through the Foodsavers Ghent programme, as well as calculating GHG emissions averted. As a member of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (MUFPP), Ghent is also seeking to incorporate the MUFPP Monitoring framework into its assessment strategy in order to ensure greater accuracy in measuring the impacts of its food policies. Another Belgian city, Bruges, member of Eurocities, also used a self-declaration survey for citizens to measure the impact of recipes and tips shared by the city for reducing food waste at the household level. And, still relevant eight years after its launch at national level, another very interesting study was carried out in France by ADEME (the French Environment and Energy Management Agency) to have households measure their own food waste.

2. Design an enabling food-policy framework

As we saw above and in the article by Antonio Zafra, Lead Expert of URBACT FOOD CORRIDORS network, food waste covers a range of topics. To ensure that it is addressed in a holistic way, some cities have designed dedicated policies, not only on sustainable food, but also, more specifically on food waste. This is the case of Milan (IT), labelled URBACT Good Practice for its Food Policy, coordinator of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact and Lead Partner of the URBACT NextAgri network. Indeed, as part of its Rethinking Milan’s approach to food waste framework, the main goal is to achieve a 50% reduction in food waste by 2030. Five main focus areas have been identified:

  • Inform and educate citizens and local stakeholders on reducing food losses and waste;
  • Recover and redistribute food waste;
  • Create local partnerships, such as among charities food banks, supermarkets and municipal
  • Improve and reduce food packaging;
  • Strive for a circular economy in food system management.

Related actions and initial measurements have already been made by the city of Milan. For example, a campaign encouraging the separation of organic from non-organic waste also achieved a source separation of 56% in three years, up from 36% in 2012. A first step to raising awareness about the quantity of food wasted in households.

3. Raise awareness and provide concrete tips

Before citizens can actually start reducing their food waste, they need to consider it as an issue. As such, regions such as Wallonia (BE) with “Moins de déchets” and countries such as France with “Ça suffit le gâchis”, Germany with “Too good for the bin”, and the UK with “Love Food, Hate Waste” have developed dedicated information campaigns presenting the key issues at stake. More importantly, they also share concrete tips for daily life, and activities.

Love Food, Hate Waste’ platform

In particular, since 2007, the aim of the ‘Love Food, Hate Waste’ campaign in the UK, implemented by the non-profit organisation WRAP, has been to reach out to consumers and cooperate extensively with companies, including supermarkets. They run poster campaigns, radio and newspaper announcements as well as bus-back adverts, using social media, cooking workshops and London-wide events. The ‘Love Food, Hate Waste’ website also provides tips and tools for proper storage, left-over recipes, understanding expiry dates, and measuring food-waste amounts, as well as promoting the benefits of home composting.

A ‘Money-Saving App’ also includes a portion and meal planner along with many recipes, and allows customers to keep track of the items they already bought and those they plan to buy. Avoidable food waste was reduced by an estimated 14% thanks to the campaign, with some households that actively focused on food-waste prevention reducing their avoidable food waste by 43%. Importantly, resources from these campaigns are designed for one-way communication and require minimal staff time to implement.

4. Challenge citizens

‘FoodWasteWatchers’ tool in action

Cities should provide dedicated tools to support households with their daily fight against food waste, as well as support intermediary organisations such as NGOs or schools. For example, in Alameda County, California, the ‘Stop Waste’ public agency designed signage, including an ‘Eat This First’ sign for the fridge to encourage households and businesses to designate a fridge area for foods that need to be eaten soon.

Engaging households in activities directly has been key to ensure they are empowered to reduce their own food waste. As part of its ‘Good Food Strategy’, a direct outcome of the URBACT Sustainable Food in Urban Communities network that it led, the Region of Brussels-Capital supported the design of ‘FoodWasteWatchers‘. This is an individual and targeted programme for households to identify what, how much they waste and why, as well as to design their own strategy in order to reduce it.

Also, in 2019, the city of Oslo (NO) organised a challenge and training programme to help families halve food waste. During this four-week project, 30 families weighed their food waste, participating in a short workshop, with tools (e.g. kitchen diary and labelling) and information on how to reduce their food waste. The ‘winning’ family cut its food waste by 95%!

5. Train citizens as relays

Fridge Masters in action

Who is better placed to talk to citizens and households than citizens themselves? Following the success of its experience on the topics of gardening and composting, the Region of Brussels-Capital supported the training and set-up of a network of ‘Fridge Masters’: over the course of nine modules, citizens exchanged experiences and were trained on various tips and tricks to reduce food waste, from improved organisation, cooking habits, and food preservation methods to shopping in different types of shops. They were also trained in facilitating events for the general public – which they did successfully with a series of tools they designed themselves. These included social media challenges and interaction, tasters on the site, and images representing ‘fake fridges’.

6. Support solidarity

Tartu’s ‘Food Share Cabinet’

Last but not least, combating food waste by sharing what would otherwise be thrown away can be a way of connecting with other people, creating new relationships and opportunities, as well as providing food to those in need. Solidarity fridges are an implementation of such a concept.

One example is the ‘Food Share Cabinet’ in Estonia’s second largest city Tartu. As a way to raise awareness, make food available for people who need it, and redistribute what would have been wasted, a temporary ‘food share’ cabinet was installed on Tartu’s ‘Car Freedom Avenue’ event as a Small Scale Action, with the support of the URBACT Zero Carbon Cities network. Shelves and a refrigerator enabled caterers from the event and neighbouring cafes to share their leftovers. This action is now part of the Tartu City Government reflexion with the food-share community to reduce food waste in the city, working with local food businesses.

What will your city do next to reduce food waste?

This listicle has shown a range of frameworks, instruments and activities used by cities to reduce food waste in households. But this is only one part of the equation. Food waste needs to be tackled along the whole supply chain.

Check our Food Knowledge Hub page for further insights, as well as the Glasgow Food Declaration resources.
Last but not least, look out for the upcoming activities of five current Horizon 2020 projects which will test further actions:

What can you do to cut waste in your town? Let us know – we’ll be curious to read about your experiences – reach out to us via Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn!

Facts and figures

Reposted from the URBACT website

Flow in Brussels, much more than an outdoor swimming pool

Flow © Marcelline Bonneau

After the two months of July and August 2021, the temporary outdoor Swimming pool Flow, coordinated by POOL IS COOL at Pont Pierre Marchant / Digue du Canal, in Anderlecht, Belgium, has come to an end. “We just want it to happen again next year”, said Nabil A., neighbour and visitor of the site. Both adults and children loved it. Inhabitants from the neighbourhood and beyond enjoyed it enthusiastically. What has this Flow been about then?

Here are some crossed reflexions and suggestions for the next editions, combining analytical insights from Marcelline Bonneau with those of a local resident, Nabil A.

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