Let’s Talk: Nature
Addressing the Food Waste Crisis

The world is undergoing a food waste crisis on an unprecedented scale. If food waste were to be a country it would be the third biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions. The European Union (EU) is no exception to this problem. Today, roughly 20% of EU food production – all 153 million tonnes of it - is wasted annually exceeding the quantity of food imported. The problem is not just wasteful, it’s costly. Estimates suggests food waste costs EU businesses and households €143bn a year and is responsible for at least 6% of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report by The Guardian newspaper. One of the reasons behind food waste is mis-used date labelling of products while another is unused food thrown out by retailers and restaurants.

Luisa, a recent NTT DATA Business Solutions hire, joined Foodsharing Darmstadt e.V. back in 2020. Having always believed in the role of sustainable living, Luisa tells us more about how she is helping to address the food waste problem in her local town in Germany.

How and why did you decide to dedicate your time to reducing food waste?

A few years ago, I attended an event and the food served for the 150 guests was exclusively made from food that would otherwise have been thrown away. I found it amazing and wanted to take something away from the experience. It was in that moment, that I decided to join the Foodsharing association, to play my part in helping to tackle the problem of food waste. The association has many volunteers, all across Germany and I belong to the one near my home in Darmstadt, close to Frankfurt.

How do you help the Foodsharing association?

Around three times a week I take time at the end of the day going around to the local supermarkets, canteens and bakeries to collect food that cannot be sold. I will typically go on with one or two others but sometimes I go alone. The time it takes depends a little on the number of people in your local association. In Darmstadt there are 300 volunteers so each mission takes about 30 minutes. All the food we collect is good enough to eat, it just doesn’t meet the strict criteria to sell. For instance, it could be damaged packaging, or mis-shaped vegetables or be approaching its use-by date. All the food is checked carefully for quality first to be sure we are only sharing high quality food produce. The food is then shared with friends and family and local communities including the homeless. I have a WhatsApp group of around 50 people and I write what I have collected each evening so that people can come to collect it. Normally I collect around three or four large crates of food for every mission that would otherwise be thrown away.

What has been the response from people to this?

We collect the food for free and share it for free – that’s what I really like about it. The retailers like the program a lot because it saves them from having to spend money on garbage collection. And the people like it because they get free food. For some of the homeless people, or those on very low incomes, it also means they get to eat foods that perhaps they could not otherwise afford. Fresh fish, for instance, is normally very expensive but through our scheme, they can get it for free.

What does food sharing mean to you and why is it important?

This is, for sure, the most meaningful hobby I’ve ever had. We have become so used to abundance that we’ve lost our appreciation for seasonal produce and the cost has been detrimental to nature. This is really a passion of mine and I want to rescue more and more food to stop the damage to our environment. I try to educate people on food waste where I can, encourage them to eat food that is still good to eat. It is not sustainable to keep going as we are because our demands for abundant food is destroying nature.

How does this passion help you in your job?

I look to live in a carbon neutral way so I began with changes to my diet. I became a vegetarian and turned to sustainable transport to get around. The next step for me was to join an association to be more sustainable so I do that through the Foodsharing association. Lastly, I wanted to connect my passion with my career so I am now doing an MBA in sustainability management. Together, with my job, it really optimizes my lifestyle choices in a very holistic way and that makes me very happy.

How do you feel about your job now?

I feel honored and privileged to be in my role. I had very little experience when I first began but put a lot of effort into leading the change so for me Covid was actually a help. The work I do now makes me happy because I know it’s having a big impact, which is really important to me, so I’m truly privileged to be doing this on a global basis.

What would be your advice to others to encourage them into volunteering?

I’d say it’s easy to be busy but volunteering is really important and shows others that you are trying to find the time to give something back. The feeling that it gives you is so rewarding and helps to improve mental health, will reinvigorate you and even make you more productive. The impact we can all have is huge. If all 40,000 employees were to spend the three days allowed to them for volunteer work that would equate to 120,000 days of service giving back to our society and special causes. It’s also a brilliant opportunity for getting your team together and doing something with a shared purpose, enjoying the fresh air and doing good at the same time.

Luisa Swetlik

One of NTT’s newest recruits, Luisa joined NTT DATA Business Solutions in Germany in April 2023 as Innovation Manager for Sustainability. In addition to her work at NTT she is currently completing an MBA in Sustainable Management to gain professional qualifications in the field of business sustainability. Luisa’s job is a mix of project work and consultancy, helping customers to solve problems from reporting on the circular economy to managing their carbon footprint. She lives in Darmstadt and fulfils a sustainable lifestyle wherever possible. Luisa invites her NTT colleagues to get in contact with her for any questions relating to this topic and /or if you would like to know more about the Foodsharing Association.

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