German dumpster divers get connected to wage war on food waste

Thu Feb 7, 2013 1:36pm EST
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By Stephen Brown

BERLIN (Reuters) - Just past midnight behind a Berlin supermarket, two youngsters with flashlights strapped to their woolen hats sift through trash cans for food that is still edible, load their bikes with bread, vegetables and chocolate Santas and cycle off into the darkness.

It is not poverty that inspires a growing number of young Germans like 21-year-old student Benjamin Schmitt to forage for food in the garbage, but anger at loss and waste which the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates at one-third of all food produced worldwide, every year, valued at about $1 trillion.

In environmentally aware, cost-conscious Germany, "foodsharing" is the latest fad, using the Internet to share food recovered from supermarket dumpsters while it is still in good condition.

"Dumpster-diving" for society's cast-offs is a fast-growing phenomenon among sub-cultures in Europe and the United States and "freegans" - vegans who do not believe in paying for food - have long been sifting through supermarket dumpsters.

But the "foodsharing" movement that has sprung up in cities like Cologne and Berlin brings efficiency and technical skills to the table in ways that make it uniquely German.

More than 8,200 people across Germany have registered to share food on the website in just seven weeks of existence, said Berlin organizer Raphael Fellmer.

The website - which has an appropriately recycled-paper look - advises people where there are "baskets" and what is in them: organic sausages in Cologne or spaghetti and Darjeeling tea in Chemnitz. Members can log in or use a Smartphone app to see the address of nearby baskets or a pick-up time and place. They can then rate the transaction like ordinary online retailers.

For people who cannot afford the Internet, Fellmer has set up the first of what he hopes will be many "hot spots" where food can be picked up anonymously: a fridge at a covered market in Berlin's Kreuzberg, where anyone can help themselves to food.   Continued...

Benjamin Schmitt (R) and Helena Jachmann, supporters of the foodsharing movement sort through food found in a dumpster behind a supermarket in Berlin, February 4, 2013. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch