HELSINKI – Jukka Peltonen has just come home from the shop with a bag of mandarin oranges, but he is disappointed to discover they’re too acidic for his taste.
Instead of throwing them out, Peltonen, the head of a PR firm, offers them to his neighbors by placing them in a communal pantry located in the cellar of his apartment complex in the Helsinki suburb of Roihuvuori.
The pioneering project, aimed at reducing food waste among the complex’s 200 residents, has been in place for the past four months, and is part of a growing worldwide trend of initiatives undertaken by consumers to live greener lives.
The pantry, used by the two buildings in the complex, is loaded with goodies: yogurts close to their expiry dates, cold cuts still in their wrappings, cheese, bread, fruit and vegetables, and an assortment of drinks.
Each user registers their visit on a clipboard hung by the door to the pantry, which is located in a room kept at 6 degrees Celsius year-round.
“You note your apartment number, you say if you brought or if you took something, and if you want, you leave a small commentary,” explained Peltonen, 51. A Facebook page itemizing the inventory is also kept up to date.
There is no legal framework regulating this type of food sharing; it is based on trust among residents. “Since last week, we can leave what’s left of home-made dishes. The person leaving them there must describe the ingredients. If he lies or if somebody gets sick, he knows he’s responsible,” Peltonen said.
The antiwaste project is the brainchild of Heikki Savonen, 44, who came up with the idea two years ago. “I was thinking, why not create a Facebook for food — on a neighborhood or a city level — to avoid wasting food,” Savonen said. He got in touch with the food sustainability research center MTT Agrifood Research Finland.
After launching the idea on Internet, he ended up contacting the residents of the Roihuvuori apartment buildings.
“It was perfect. With 100 apartments, the size matched our criteria. And the residents were heterogeneous: some families, some old people and students living alone,” Savonen said.
MTT Agrifood Research said the project is forward thinking.
Finnish households throw away 130,000 tons of food each year. In Roihuvuori, there’s room to grow: So far only about a dozen people leave regular comments on the clipboard.
“Let’s be realistic. Some people will never use it,” Peltonen said. “There are also secret users: They use the system but they don’t write anything. For instance, old people think it’s shameful to take other people’s food, so they do it without telling.”
After four months, it’s hard to tell if the project has reduced the users’ monthly grocery bills, but Savonen said that’s not the most important thing.
“After a while, this project could create a sense of community,” Savonen said. “People could greet each other in the building’s corridors, and say, ‘The pasta you cooked last night was really good!’ “