The convergence of environmental awareness and consumer culture has created a whole new
movement today whereby sharing is cool. Indeed, some environmentalists view sharing as key to
maintaining our quality of life and our sanity in an increasingly cluttered world. “Sharing is a
relatively simple concept and a basic part of human life,” reports Janelle Orsi on Shareable, an
online magazine that tells the story of sharing. “What’s new is that people are applying sharing in
innovative and far-reaching ways, many of which require complex planning, new ways of thinking
and organizing, and new technologies. In short, people are taking sharing to new levels, ranging
from relatively simple applications of sharing to community-wide sharing initiatives-and beyond.” “In
a shareable world, things like car sharing, clothing swaps, childcare coops, potlucks, and cohousing
make life more fun, green, and affordable,” reports Shareable. “When we share, not only is a better
life possible, but so is a better world.”
The non-profit Freecycle Network, which runs a Craigslist-style website where people can list items
they want to give away, pioneered using the Internet to facilitate diverting reusable goods from
landfills when it launched back in 2003. To date, more than nine million individuals across 5,000
different regions have used the group’s freecycle.org website to find new homes for old items.
According to Shareable, other examples such as Zipcar, Wikipedia, Kiva and Creative Commons
show how successful sharing can be. “They show what’s possible when we share. They show that
we don’t act merely for our own good, but go out of our way to contribute to the common good. They
show that we can solve the crises we face, and thrive as never before. They show that a new world
is emerging where the more you share the more respect you get, and where life works because
everyone helps each other.”
Shareable and the Center for a New American Dream, a non-profit that highlights the connections
between consumption, quality of life and the environment, have collaborated on the production of
the new “Guide to Sharing,” a free downloadable booklet loaded with practical ideas about
exchanging stuff, time, skills and space. Some of the ideas in the guide include: organizing a
community swap; starting a local toy, seed or tool library; launching a skills exchange where
community members can swap professional skills like carpentry or grant-writing; or setting up a food,
transportation or gardening co-op. Some other sharing tips include car-sharing, gift circles, sharing
backyard chickens with neighbors and launching a “free market” where people meet to trade skills
and stuff. For her part, Janelle Orsi envisions a future where public land is dedicated to community
gardening, public libraries also lend tools, equipment and other goods, and citywide bike sharing,
carpooling and wifi programs are all the rage. Orsi and others warn we had better get used to
sharing, as it is here to stay.
A group of volunteers stand in the FareShare depot in Deptford, south-east London, as shift
coordinator James Souteriou calls out items. They are putting together grocery orders to be
delivered to organisations across London - to a branch of the homelessness charity Thames Reach,
to the Holborn Community Association and a local nursery and infants’ school.
“Can I get a tray of pineapples? A tray of chicken madras? Three boxes of porridge?” James calls
and the volunteers scurry off in their hi-vis vests and steel-capped boots to fetch the items from
towering piles of food.
The quantity of food in the depot is overwhelming. In the centre of one of the aisles is a delivery
from a supermarket of about 500 jars of pasta sauce. Boxes of rice are stacked on shelves to the
roof and the walk-in dairy fridge is so full that somewhere else has to be found to store excess
The volunteers collect trays of pork sausages, potatoes, stir fry sauces, bread, watermelon, eggs,
chicken, apples, cereal and fruit juice. All of the food looks appetising and is within its best-before
date. But if it weren’t for FareShare, all of it would have been thrown away.
FareShare has been running as an independent charity since 2004. It collects food from
supermarkets, cafe chains, bakeries and other retailers that would otherwise be discarded and
distributes it to 2,020 charities across the country. Last year it redistributed 7,360 tonnes of food,
providing 15.3m meals and saving the British voluntary sector an estimated £19m.
One of the charities that receives weekly deliveries from FareShare is the Deptford Methodist
Mission Disabled People’s Contact (DPC), which provides three-course lunches for elderly people
in the area three days a week.
Since the DPC began receiving FareShare deliveries in February 2014 it has cut its food bill by
30%, meaning it can direct funds elsewhere, such as a much-needed new minibus for which the
centre is currently fundraising.
“It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to us. We get such good stuff, things we’d never be able to
afford,” says Lisa Helsby, the volunteer coordinator at the DPC.
“One day we got salmon and mangoes,” says Erica Ross, day centre manager, “and it just
happened to be the day the mayor was visiting, so we thought, oh aren’t we fancy? But then we
also wanted to let the mayor know, we don’t always eat like this! It’s not all salmon!”
Salmon or not, the people who attend the centre are not complaining about the food. DPC regular
Pat’s favourite is the pork pot roast with the trimmings. “The roast is unbelievable. It’s very good,”
For Pat, 73, the appeal of the DPC is the social connection. “You get lonely and sometimes when
it’s just you at home you don’t make a proper meal.” She has been coming for seven years, for
lunches on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and is devastated when she has to miss it. “It shuts down
for two weeks at Christmas and two weeks over summer, and we all can’t wait to get back.”
FareShare has begun to change attitudes to food waste in the UK retail sector, but Mark Varney,
head of FareShare’s food department, says there is a long way to go.
“Last year we collected 7,300 tonnes, but our French sister organisation redistributes 100,000
tonnes a year. In Portugal it’s even higher than that per head of the population. It’s high in
Germany, Belgium, Holland, Italy. So the UK is by far the smallest,” he says.
Organisations in other European countries are helped by funding from the EU to buy warehouses
and trucks, as well as national tax systems that allow supermarkets to claim rebates on produce
given to FareShare-type organisations, whereas the UK has neither of these incentives.
FareShare also finds itself competing against alternative and much cheaper methods for
supermarkets to deal with excess food: selling it to be used for anaerobic digestion, which turns
food into electricity, and animal feed, both of which Varney says are “great for food that actually is
waste” - such as banana skins or apple cores - but not the ideal solution for food that is still edible.
“The management time involved and costs of logistics in keeping food as food are higher than they
would be if I were treating it as waste. We’re constantly fighting against that,” he says.
Varney remains optimistic and ambitious. “Our goal is to increase the amount of food collected to
100,000 tonnes by the end of this parliament,” he says.
By Kate Lyons
Margarete Herrmann has popped out of her psychotherapy practice in the leafy Berlin suburb of
Zehlendorf and cycled to the nearby organic store, Bio Company, for a twice-weekly pickup
appointment. A salesperson greets her at the shop and hands over five boxes full of food. Carrots,
cream, yoghurts, beansprouts, tofu burgers and bread rolls are among the items inside.
Herrmann is one of about 8,000 “food-savers” across Germany, Switzerland and Austria who
combat food waste through the growing online platform Foodsharing.
Herrmann carefully sorts through the food, deciding what she will keep and what she’ll give to
others in her neighbourhood, or sometimes just strangers on the street.
She is joined by Raphael Fellmer, the founder of Food Rescue, which merged with Foodsharing at
the end of 2014. His food-saving life began as a “dumpster diver”, sorting through the bins of food
stores and picking out good food that had been thrown away. “But I wanted to find a more socially
acceptable way of saving food, rather than risk being caught by the police with my head in a bin,”
In the three years since Foodsharing began, Herrmann, Fellmer and the growing army of food-
savers have carried out 150,000 pickups from 1,600 shops and saved almost 2,000 tonnes of food
from supermarkets, restaurants and bakeries that otherwise would have been thrown away.
Fellmer, 31, proudly points to the bins at the back of the store to show how much the waste has
been reduced since Foodsharing began. “When we started they had three times as many bins,” he
The food savers take the food to communal shelves and fridges - of which there are now about 300
- known as Fair Teiler (a play on verteiler, the German word for distributor) . The highest
concentration is in Berlin, which boasts 19 of them.
Sarah, a student, takes a detour to one in the hip eastern district of Prenzlauer Berg, on her way
home from university. Accompanied by her golden retriever puppy she heads into the graffitied inner
courtyard of a 19th-century house on Dunckerstrasse, and peruses the shelves of a gaudy orange
“What have we got today then?” she asks, before retrieiving two bread rolls, some carrots, a wilting
parsnip and some rocket salad. “That should do me for my supper,” the 25-year-old says. “And two
things that really cheer me: I’ve rescued the food, and it’s free.”
As she leaves, Nora, a physiotherapist, cycles into the courtyard to fill the shelves with low-fat milk
and ripe bananas she has just picked up from a local shop. “The best thing about this is how it
raises the awareness about waste,” she says.
That the system functions has much to do with the goodwill of volunteers such as Gérard Roscoe
Misler, who ensures the fridge is clean and the food inside is still fresh enough to eat. The 53-year-
old countertenor and urban gardener, who also runs a community shop at the front of the house,
painted the fridge orange, and ensures it stands on a wooden table to stop rats getting inside.
He says the distribution point has become increasingly important the more gentrified Prenzlauer
Berg has become. “There are lots of people here who don’t have much money and who find it a
lifesaver to be able to get some milk or bread,” he says.
Buoyed by its tremendous popularity and by the many requests received to set up similar online
platforms across the globe, Foodsharing’s creators are due to send the website’s template out into
the world by the end of the year, when it will go fully open source in the hope of sparking an anti-
waste initiative on a global scale.
By Kate Connolly in Berlin