Every week Romanian psychology student Ioana Man and her team roam the local market to pick up the produce the market vendors can’t sell to their customers and re-distribute it to poor Romanian families. As part of her project No Food Waste they’ve managed to collect over 800 kilos of otherwise thrown away food in her hometown Aiud in Romania in the last year. We talked to her about her international award-winning organization, the awareness about food waste in Romania and her plans for the future.
“Each of us had a backpack and maybe some carry bags, but it wasn’t enough for the amount of produce we managed to collect. I have to admit that we were underprepared. The thing is; the vendors always put the best looking products in front, because those attract the customers. They usually hide the food that has tiny flaws, such as a spot or a different shape or size. Of course we had to present ourselves as well as our objective to each vendor in the market. Almost every vendor responded positively and even more surprising, some of them already had large bags of unwanted vegetables. For example, the first one we went to had two large bags of peppers which they were either going to sell for a lower price or, in the worst case, they were going to throw away. That day alone we managed to collect around 100 kg of produce, from bell-peppers to cauliflower, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots and other seasonal and local produce”, Ioana recalls her first time going to the market to collect food otherwise destined for the trash.
But before she starts No Food Waste in her hometown, she first goes to Italy on an exchange to learn about sustainable consumption and food waste on behave of the Society for Responsible Consumption or SRC. The SRC is a Romanian non-profit organization that develops healthy consumption habits and promotes the harmonious development of local communities in particular and human society in general. “Last year the SRC shared an announcement on Facebook about a youth exchange which was going to take place in Turin. They were looking for a young person from Aiud who was interested in sustainability. I was one of the three applicants and the lucky one selected to take part”, Ioana explains. In Torino she quickly learns about food waste as part of a project called ‘Think Global, Act Local’. “For ten days, I had the opportunity to meet wonderful people from other countries and find out more about how to promote a sustainable living, closer to nature and more minimalistic.”
Starting No Food Waste
After coming back to Romania it was only logical to sustain her quest to reduce the waste of precious products. After all, Romania is one of the poorest countries in the EU, so there are a lot of people that can use some help. With the support of the SRC, she manages to start her own project: No Food Waste. “It was like, I had the seed and they had the soil that helped me grow the seed into a lovely plant”, Ioana describes the cooperation. Together with SRC-member Raluca Popan she designs posters that announce the project and their need for volunteers. Within a month she finds five people to aid her in her mission, among them Ioana’s mom. After finding the needed manpower it is time to really put her plan into action: “What we actually do is assure there are at least two volunteers able to go to the market to collect the produce. We usually go on Thursdays because that is the day when the market is full with vendors. They give us the vegetables or fruits they weren’t able to sell that day and we take it to a place where we can distribute it equally to each of the three needy families. Then we visit the families and deliver the food. We also give each of them two breads that are donated by a local bakery”, Ioana explains.
Together with her team Ioana has been able to collect over 800 kg of otherwise wasted food in the past year to help families in need. But, maybe even more important in the long run, they’ve also been able to raise awareness around the wasting of food. “People in Romania are not very aware of the food waste, let alone of its impact. But slowly, through projects like No Food Waste, people start to be more aware of the fact that there is a place for vegetables or fruits that have tiny flaws”, Ioana says. “This idea has been tackled before in other cities in Romania, but No Food Waste is the first one that was actively involved in food collection as well as donating it to other people.” Since the start of the project they’ve collected over 800 kg of food and helped more than 60 people in Aiud, people with a low socio-economic status, often without stable jobs.
So far No Food Waste has made a big impact, not only in Aiud, but the project even won the Refresh Food Waste competition in Berlin. “Winning the award means a lot to us as a team, but also for our hometown Aiud”, Ioana says. Winning the award gives No Food Waste access to a conference, also held in the German capital, where she and her team can present the project to other food waste reduction enthusiasts. “By taking part in this competition, we also managed to inspire our team members as well as give them access to better practices which could help in rising the quality and the impact of No Food Waste in the future”, she adds. “Since our winning, people from other cities in Romania heard of the project and want to do the same in their hometowns as well.”
At the moment there’s not a lot of produce on the markets in Romania, so there’s not a lot of food to collect. This gives Ioana and her team some time to plot and plan their next moves: “One of our future plans is to bring our project to schools, to start the education for a sustainable living from a younger age. Another plan is to organize a Community Dinner in Aiud. These are our main goals for the future.”