Visiting Food Bank Estonia

I am currently in Estonia for the Clean World Brainstorm organized by Let’s Do It! I’m honored to be one of 50 or so waste thinkers from around the globe here to brainstorm about how to reduce waste and clean up the planet. I’ll report back on our progress in a few days.

Yesterday, though, I had the chance to visit with Food Bank Estonia (Eesti ToiduPank) in Tallinn. It was a neat opportunity to see a burgeoning food redistribution group (operating for almost 3 years) in a part of the world where food banks haven’t traditionally existed.

In addition to touring their headquarters, I participated in a seminar on global and local food waste with representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture and the City of Tallinn. All parties seemed interested in further cooperation, and there’s potential that one or both agencies will push to reduce food waste.

Meanwhile, I learned a great deal about food waste in Estonia. As in many places, there’s a generation gap here. Younger Estonians, familiar with relative prosperity, waste food without much thought. Being a former Soviet bloc nation, that divide is even sharper–as the population who experienced food shortages during the Soviet era have a deeper appreciation for food. But, one waste-inducing consequence of that period is a desire to stockpile or experience abundance simply because food is so available.

And as we see in most nations, expiration dates cause much food waste in Estonia. The confusion over terms (some of which have slightly different meanings) and the relative uselessness of date labels in general are problems. Meanwhile, poor storage, mostly with potatoes, is a major cause of food loss.

One sobering statistic: There are roughly 200,000 Estonians who don’t get enough to eat (about 15% of the population–just like the US). And there are roughly 200,000 tons of food wasted annually in Estonia. Even I can calculate that that means there *could* be 1 ton of food redistributed to each needy citizen.

By rough comparison, there are 49 million hungry Americans and about 33 million tons of food wasted in the US. So there’s arguably more of a need for Food Bank Estonia to exist than any of its US counterparts. Good thing it does.

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