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Milan's "Hubs" Are A Local Answer to the Global Food Waste Problem

Milan's "Hubs" Are A Local Answer to the Global Food Waste Problem
vegetable stand photo | Photo by Thomas Le on Unsplash

Food waste is a massive problem, both in the US and around the world. According to the nonprofit Food Print, America wastes nearly 40% of all food, over 125 Billion pounds of it, much of which is edible. Globally, the international food system generates a third of all greenhouse gas emissions, yet 33% of all food—1.3 billion metric tons per year—gets wasted. At the same time this is happening, 800 million people, a tenth of the world’s population, are undernourished and food insecure. (With no help from Elon Musk...). While there may not be one quick and easy fix to solve the food waste problem, the Italian city of Milan has been confronting it with real success, and their model could be replicated in cities around the world.

In 2015 Milan became one of the first major cities to enforce a citywide food waste policy. Working in tandem with government agencies, food banks, universities, NGOs, and private businesses, Milan launched a program with the goal of halving their food waste by 2030 through the development of new methods for redistributing surplus food. A few years later, in 2019, the city launched food-waste “Hubs” across the city. Although the Hubs look like any other supermarket, the food on their shelves have been donated by local businesses and other supermarkets. The markets collect local surplus food, and, when necessary, supplement their stock with purchase food aid. The customers at the Hubs, hundreds of Milanese families in need, don’t pay with cash, but rather a prepaid card supplied through the program. The Hubs also provides social services such like legal aid, counseling, and childcare support.

The Hubs have been tremendously successful so far. As of this year, researchers estimate that each of the three existing Hubs recovers around 130 metric tons of food annually — or, about 260,000 meals, utilizing around 30% of Milan’s would-be food waste. “Each city around the world could apply this model,” says Andrea Segrè, a professor of agricultural policy at the University of Bologna. “You need some competence, some knowledge, and willing actors. But you can copy it easily.”

The future for Milan’s Food Waste Hub program looks bright. Two more hubs are set to open in other Milan neighborhoods within the next few months, bringing the total up to five Hubs. And there are hopes to expand the program in other cities across the world. In October, Milan won the first Earthshot Prize, an initiative founded by Britain’s Prince William to support environmental innovations, receiving £1 million in prize money plus a global network of support to scale their model.

Food Hubs aren’t the only answer to the solution—that would need to start at home, because a majority of food waste (~70%) comes from households. Still, the Hubs are an undeniable success in seriously reducing food-waste, and should become a major contributor in the fight against food-waste and hunger.

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