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To Cut Food Waste, Switzerland Tries Public Refrigerators

FILE - A Free Food Fridge Albany sidewalk refrigerator is stocked with produce and other food, June 25, 2021, in Albany, N.Y. The nonprofit Free-Go has put refrigerators and food storage centers in Geneva, Switzerland so people can get food. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)
In Effort to Cut Food Waste, Switzerland Tries Public Refrigerators
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A nonprofit group in Geneva, Switzerland is making refrigerators available so restaurant owners and cooks can make food available to the public before it goes bad.

The refrigerators are being placed along streets for anyone to use. The project is part of a continuing effort by people in Switzerland and other European countries to cut down on food waste.

The nonprofit Free-Go has put refrigerators and food storage centers in Geneva so people can get fruit, vegetables, breads and other foods at no cost. Free-Go is a smart play on the word “frigo,” which is an informal French word for refrigerator.

The program costs about $40,000 to run each year. It receives support from private groups and the city government. Free-Go launched a year ago with a single refrigerator outside a community center in western Geneva. There are now four refrigerators around the city. The group plans a fifth before the end of the year.

Marine Delevaux is the project’s director. She said the food left in its refrigerators is usually taken within an hour of being left. For health and legal reasons, no frozen foods, open food containers, prepared meals, or alcohol are permitted in the refrigerators.

Free-Go also lets people who use the service plan when they will get their food. The idea is to make it easier for people who live in apartment buildings to join the program. There is also a telephone line, or “hotline,” that restaurants can use to call for someone to pick up unused food.

“Generally, when the food collected from shops and restaurants arrives in the morning, people are already waiting to help themselves,” Delevaux said.

She added that the first Geneva refrigerator helped save 3.2 tons of food from going to waste last year. Of the food donated, only about three percent had to be thrown away because nobody wanted it.

Free-Go said those who give food from private businesses, like restaurants or food sellers, must promise to make sure the donated food is safe to eat. Swiss law says food past the “recommended use-by” date can be eaten for up to a year afterwards, Delevaux said.

The Swiss government estimates that nearly one-third of all food products are wasted or thrown away. That amounts to about 330 kilograms of food waste per person each year. Of that, about 100 kilograms are waste from households.

Free-Go says about 1 billion tons of food go to waste every year around the world. The group says the waste uses up energy and other resources in the farming and transportation process.

“Wasting food is not only an ethical and economic issue but it also depletes the environment of limited natural resources,” the European Union’s Commission said.

Similar food-sharing campaigns are in place in the Swiss capital, Bern, and in the town of Neuchatel. The idea was first imported from Germany. is a community group in Germany that started more than 10 years ago. It said that more than half a million people in Germany, Switzerland and Austria have made “the food-sharing initiative an international movement.” The group said it has helped save 83 million tons of food from going to waste.

Because the food is free, and the donations can change, it is not always clear what will appear in the refrigerators. Some people receiving food might not get what they want or need.

Outside a community center in Geneva recently, Shala Moradi said she was looking for some bread and there was none. She is 65 years old and came from Iran. She has lived in Geneva for 10 years. She said she appreciates the initiative.

“It’s very good. I can take strawberries, cherries, things like that,” she said, talking about the different food that is available. Of the no cost food, she said, “I like that too.”

Severine Cuendet is a 54-year-old teacher. Just after leaving some vegetables that she grew, she said, “We have too much” and praised the initiative “because this neighborhood has a lot of need.”

She added, “And it happens to all of us to buy too much.”

I’m Gregory Stachel. And I'm Faith Pirlo.

Jamey Keaten reported this story for The Associated Press. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

refrigerator n. a device or room that is used to keep food cold

apartment building –n. a building that holds many places to live which could have one or several rooms

pick up –v. to go to get something and take it back to where it is needed

shop n. a building or room where goods and services are sold

deplete v. to use most or all of (something important): to greatly reduce the amount of (something)

initiative n. a plan or program that is intended to solve a problem

appreciate v. to understand the worth or importance of (something or someone): to admire and value (something or someone)


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