Malta, like most countries, has a serious problem with food wastage. A study from 2017 showed that nearly a quarter of food bought on the islands ends up in our bins. One grassroots initiative is looking to address the issue, one give away at a time.
In just a year since its creation, “Food Swap Malta” has more than 2,800 people looking to salvage food by giving it to others for free.
The idea is to reduce waste, provide better accountability and variety for all without a price. Figures show that more than half (55%) of Malta’s domestic refuse is food.
Whether it’s extra oranges from home-gardens, cooking up too much food for one family, home-made concoctions or just some products people want to part with in a sustainable way, it’s a simple yet sound way to cut down on waste.
Members post virtually every kind of food: fancy teas, organic fruit and vegetables, wine, home-made chutney and non-perishables like cans and pasta. Some post to trade with specific food while others just want to see it go to use.
“I’m an environmentalist and I come from a family of farmers in Burmarrad,” Cane Vella, the man behind the group told Lovin Malta.
The idea came to Vella after seeing fruit and vegetables farmers weren’t selling because they looked less than perfect.
“I realised it was generating a lot of food waste. I woke up one morning and decided, what if we could swap produce instead of letting it go to waste?” Vella said.
And so Food Swap Malta was born.
Someone with a lemon tree, for example, can offer their extra lemons in exchange for cabbage. Or, someone with unwanted gifts, like wine or sweets, common at Christmas time, can give them away in exchange for something more desirable.
“It also encourages local barter, so people learn what’s in season. There’s no exchange of money so you value food bit better. It’s fostered a sense of community and conversation which is priceless,” Vella added.
Just a year into the online initiative, Vella says it’s been a huge success.
“It’s working to really well, people are swapping all day every day. Some made it their way of life. Bakers that have to reject their bakes because they’re the wrong size, for example, swap their bread for vegetables. We’re seeing people swap clothes for food too.”
Their plan for the future is to develop something similar to dating app Tinder. The idea would be that people could swipe left or right on items and match with others to set up a swap.
Food waste is a major issue beyond Malta – with 88 million tonnes of it thrown away across Europe, costing the bloc around €146 billion euros. Every member state is asked to cut their waste by 20% by 2025 and 50% by 2050. Currently, each person generates some 180kg of food scraps a year.
Last year, the General Workers Union embraced on a campaign called “Tkunx Basla” to raise awareness on its effect on our lives and the environment. GWU General Secretary Josef Bugeja warned that the effects around just a hefty waste bill, but that food releases chemical gases into the air which also affect our climate.
In December, Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia praised the emergence of online swap shops like this one, adding that plans are in the works to better distribute food near-expiry to families that could use it. He divulged the country’s 10-year plan to move Malta towards a circular economy, which includes mandatory waste separation, new infrastructure and educational campaigns.
But, as with many things, change starts at home or, in this case, an online swap shop.
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