Food waste is a huge problem – and one that two Rotterdam initiatives tackle with a positive spin. During the Bijna Waste Geweest Feest (i.e. almost-gone-to-waste party) they repurpose up to 10,000 kilos of food that would otherwise get thrown out.

Things are busy at the Fenix Food Factory in Rotterdam. They usually are at this former warehouse-turned-hotspot where seven young entrepreneurs treat self-proclaimed gourmands to artisanal products like cheese, bread, and locally-brewed beer.

This Saturday, however, visitors arrive for a very different reason: to save bruised fruit and greens from the almighty shredder.

“Every year, millions of kilos of fruit and vegetables are tossed out because of overproduction or because they don’t meet the strict quality requirements set by supermarkets,” says Lisanne van Zwol, the co-founder of Kromkommer (a Dutch play on words, meaning ‘crooked cucumber’).

Food waste festival rotterdam juice making
In Rotterdam, the Bijna Waste Geweest Feest tackles food waste.

Crooked cucumbers and hail-damaged apples

The primary goal of this ambitious company is to change our current food system. “Crooked cucumbers, for example, are being thrown out although they are just as tasty as their perfectly straight counterparts,” states van Zwol, standing next to a large wooden crate filled with pumpkins and butternut squash that proved too big, too small, or too misshapen for the supermarket shelves.

A local farmer dropped these off at the Fenix Food Factory yesterday. Today, the orange vegetables are in high demand, as are hail-damaged apples and pears, lumpy tomatoes, and less-than-perfect eggplants. Crates brimming with rejected greens are stacked high in the center of the room.

This is the second edition of the Bijna Waste Geweest Feest. After its successful debut in Rotterdam – and a stint in Utrecht, the very heart of the Netherlands – its formula remains simple: Visitors purchase a linen bag for eight euros, to be filled with five kilos of fruits and vegetables.

Food waste festival rotterdam cue
The festival’s formula is simple: Visitors purchase a linen bag for eight euros, to be filled with five kilos of fruits and vegetables.
Food waste festival rotterdam mest counter
Food waste festival rotterdam postcards
Food waste festival rotterdam pumpkins
Food waste festival rotterdam buying
Food waste festival rotterdam outside
Food waste festival rotterdam explanation
Food waste festival rotterdam barbecue
Food waste festival rotterdam people talk

Saving 10,000 kilos of food in one day

In a single day, this helps to save 10,000 kilos of food. It’s a win-win situation, according to van Zwol. “In addition to reducing waste, farmers make some money and visitors get to go home with a bag full of goodies.”

Since 2012, van Zwol and her colleagues have been trying to get rejected crops onto supermarket shelves by working them into products with a longer shelf life like soups and sauces.

For the Bijna Waste Geweest Feest, they joined forces with the like-minded enthusiasts of Rechtstreex, a company that delivers products from regional farmers directly to consumers.

food waste festival rotterdam shopping mass
The festival is giving people the opportunity to put a real dent in post-harvest losses, something that’s virtually impossible to do on an individual basis.
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Food waste festival rotterdam drawing kids
Food waste festival rotterdam making waffles
Food waste festival rotterdam fruit juice
Food waste festival rotterdam shopping
Food waste festival rotterdam stand
Food waste festival rotterdam cue outside

A light-hearted approach to a serious problem

According to Esther Audier of Rechtstreex, their positive approach is what helped to make this event so popular. “We don’t believe in finger-pointing. Food waste is a serious problem, but we’re approaching it in a light-hearted way. We’re showing people how fun it can be to save wonky and rejected veggies.”

Festival-goers are taking her message to heart, filling their bags with pumpkins, yellow beets, and tomatoes while sharing recipes and recommendations. Friends Linda and Eline each buy two bags. “We both have young children, which has made us more aware of the food we put in our mouths,” says Linda.

“We don’t really care what they look like, so we’re loading up on kilos of vitamin-rich fruit and veg for the whole family. The fact that we’re also doing something to prevent food waste is an added bonus.”

The goal: to make themselves unnecessary

A pessimist might say that the festival is little more than a drop in the ocean of food waste. After all, every year we throw away at least about a third of the food we produce.

Most of this waste, however, is the result of complex market mechanisms. As Audier explains, “food prices sometimes drop so low that the cost of harvesting crops exceeds their market value.”

On the other hand, this festival is giving people the opportunity to put a real dent in post-harvest losses, something that’s virtually impossible to do on an individual basis.

In cities, supermarkets tend to determine and dominate the supply. Those looking to buy directly from growers need to make a real effort. At the very least, the festival is sending a valuable message: Fruit and vegetables don’t have to look perfect to attract customers.

The organizers hope that increased awareness of food waste will make initiatives like this one unnecessary in the future. “We hope that reducing food waste becomes so commonplace five years from now that we won’t even have to think about it,” says Audier. “Once we achieve that, we’ll consider our efforts a success.”

All image incl. the header image: Fabian van Zwol