Fruit and veg waste falls by 14.6t per week in Portugal due to ‘ugly’ produce project

According to the European Commission, in Europe, around 30% of all fruit and vegetables are discarded each year just because of appearance.

However, in Portugal, the ‘Flaw4Life’ project has worked with farmers, consumers, volunteers and students to cut this waste by 2,600t. This compares to the annual amount of unused food from around 13,000 people.

With Portugal having taken over the rotating presidency of the EU on January 1, the commission spoke with the Flaw4Life’s Isabel Soares in Lisbon, who discussed the project that won the LIFE award for environment as well as the LIFE citizens’ prize. 

Soares said that a lot of people “tend to only buy perfect looking fruit and vegetables”.

“This has resulted in just 70% of this produce going to market while the rest is discarded,” she explained.

“We wanted to fight the problem and back in 2013, we successfully tested our approach known as ‘Fruta Feia’ (Ugly Fruit) in Lisbon.”

‘The idea is simple’

The team then partnered with Lisbon’s City Council and the Instituto Superior Técnico (IST) and applied for LIFE (EU’s funding instrument for the environment and climate action) funding to start Flaw4Life in 2015.

“We opened several delivery points across Portugal. These are essentially alternative markets for quality fruit and vegetables that are discarded, just because they are small, misshaped or not the right colour,” Soares continued.

“We also managed to attract more farmers and consumers to become involved.

The idea is simple – we buy the rejected fruit and vegetables directly from the farmers and sell them on at a fair price to consumers at our delivery points.

“Also, our approach means less of the water, soil and energy used to grow these fruit and vegetables is wasted.”

The team estimates that fruit and vegetable waste in Portugal has fallen by up to 14.6t per week.

‘We want to work with even more farmers’

“The farms involved are now more efficient, as they are maximising their use of water, energy and soil to grow their produce,” she said.

“Emissions are down as there is less food decomposing into the atmosphere. The need to transport discarded food waste has also fallen.”

The project is now working with 262 farmers, 6,450 consumers and 950 volunteers. There are 12 delivery points located across Portugal. 

“By working with our partners, we have raised a lot of awareness in schools and communities on the fact that ugly fruit and vegetables are not waste,” Soares continued.

“We have also produced a handbook that contains guidelines which can be used by other countries wanting to cut their food waste.”

It is hoped that new delivery points will be opened to reach more customers to meet the demand of 20,000 people on the waiting list.

“We also want to work with even more farmers, buying the food they reject,” Soares added.

Food waste in Ireland

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Irish households produce over 250,000t of food waste per year, at a cost of €700 per household.

In November, it launched a new campaign to encourage people to take a “simple action” to reduce food waste, by freezing surplus food before its use-by date.

A recent EPA survey, conducted by Behaviour & Attitudes, found that 68% of people still say ‘passing use-by dates’ is the top reason they throw out food at home.

It found that 75% of the population understand that use-by dates are a deadline, and over 80% check them to ensure food is still safe to eat.

The EPA suggest that freezing food is an “easy way to stop wasting food and save money”.