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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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The road to COP26: climate change at the heart of URBACT cities of all sizes

Towns and cities must boost local actions to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change. Three URBACT cities show how…

COP26, the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference, is on its way. In November, governments from around the world will gather in Glasgow (UK) to reaffirm their commitment to tackling climate change. Meanwhile, without waiting for the next COP, many URBACT cities have already been developing their own strategies, activities, and partnerships to move towards greater integration and transversality in their local climate policies.

Cities are the level at which most emissions are recorded. The world’s cities consume 60–80% of natural resources(link is external), producing 50% of global waste and 75% of greenhouse gas emissions. And this is set to increase:75% of EU citizens(link is external) live in urban areas; 66% of the world’s(link is external) population is expected to live in cities by 2050; and cities’ global carbon footprint is predicted to triple by 2030. As a result, an estimated 93% of cities face threats such as floods, storms and heatwaves, and although many are taking action to improve resilience, up to 400 million people(link is external) could be living in cities with no plan to tackle climate by 2030.

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