What the world can learn from Denmark

Food waste down 25% in five years

Since setting up pressure group Stop Spild Af Mad (Stop Wasting Food) in 2008, Selina Juul has become a go-to spokesperson on the issue for governments, industry and NGOs alike. Here she shares the secrets of her success.

Why do you think Stop Wasting Food is so successful?

Selina Juul: “Our approach is different to other organizations. At Stop Wasting Food we try to find creative solutions to the issue and work with industry, government and other stakeholders to solve the problem. Also, the timing was fortunate. In 2008, there was a financial crisis and people wanted to economize. That meant they were receptive to a message that made the link between food waste and saving money.”

What do you see as your organization’s main achievements?

“The Danish Agriculture and Food Council estimated that food waste has reduced by 25% in Denmark in five years. Having helped raise awareness and suggest solutions to the issue is something we’re proud of. As a result of our work, almost half the population of Denmark is focused on reducing the amount of food they waste. We are also working with huge organizations such as the UN and the EU to tackle it at an international level.”

“Finding a use for the surplus is an effective way to cut waste”

- Selina Juul, Founder of Stop Wasting Food

What do you think are the most effective ways of stopping food waste?

“It’s probably a combination of things such as legislation, education and creativity. Though you have to be careful legislation doesn’t just shift the problem elsewhere as it seems to have done in France. Fundamentally, we need to get to the root of the problem, which in most cases is over-production. Finding a use for that surplus is one of the most effective ways to cut waste.”

What are the pitfalls other organizations should be wary of?

“The biggest trap is being adversarial. If I had been an angry activist, I don’t think we’d have been anywhere near as successful. Because we seek to collaborate, people want to work with us. And that includes corporations such as Nestlé and Unilever as well as food producers, restaurants and supermarket groups. Thanks to my appearances on CNN and the BBC, which got more than 30 millon views worldwide, we are now being approached by companies and NGOs from all over the world.”

Do you still believe a good way to get people on board is by highlighting how much money they can save?

“I think it’s a great way of raising awareness and has worked well in Denmark. People tend to switch off when you talk about climate change or resource scarcity. But if you raise things that matter to them, such as saving money and time, it appeals to them more. And because people are saving money, they often buy better food, which they are less willing to throw away – and that helps cut waste too.”

Which organizations or initiatives worldwide do you admire?

“We cooperate with lots of organizations around the world to raise awareness and share best practice. I’m particularly proud of my membership of the global coalition Champions 12.3 and the work we’re doing with the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste to look at ways of measuring losses and waste. This is crucial. If you can’t measure it, it’s incredibly difficult to manage it.”

“Food waste should be as frowned upon as smoking”

- Selina Juul, Founder of Stop Wasting Food

And what do you want to do next?

“Now, our focus is on working with industry and finding ways to help turn surplus food into money and growth. The market is going to be huge. We’re already running initiatives to try and educate people to buy products made from the kind of food that used to get thrown away. But it’s a constant battle. Even if we achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal of halving food waste by 2030, there will still be a long way to go. Ultimately, food waste should be as frowned upon as smoking.”

Selina Juul uses a loaf of bread to symbolize food waste during her Ted Talk.