1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted worldwide each year. It’s time to change our habits.Zero-waste is the latest trend among eco-friendly and sustainable-living circles — and it’s taking the world by storm. From legislation in France forbidding supermarkets from throwing away unsold food, to completely waste-free stores, to a restaurant owner who installed a fridge laden with uneaten food on the street to feed the needy, concerned individuals are taking a hard look at our oftentimes excessive and wasteful habits, and finding creative and innovative ways to close the loop. .

“Tree of Goodness” in Southern India

Minu Pauline owns Pappadavada restaurant in Kochi, southern India. The 28-year-old proprietor was upset that her establishment was throwing away food each day when many within the community were going hungry. Then inspiration struck after watching a woman digging through the restaurant’s rubbish bags for food late one night…

“Just imagine being in the situation where you should be asleep but you feel too hungry and you have to go out to find food,” she told the Independent. “It was very sad.” The experience was an eye-opener for Pauline. She realised just how much we waste food in society — including her own business. In response, she decided to place a refrigerator in front of her restaurant.

Once the fridge was in place, she encouraged customers to place whatever food they didn’t finish within. It’s left unlocked and unsupervised 24 hours a day, and the food is available to anyone for free. Christened nanmamaram — meaning ‘tree of goodness’ — the refrigerator feeds dozens of people each day.

Critics felt that attracting the homeless to the front of her restaurant would repel paying customers. Instead, just the opposite happened and business is booming. “I have so many smiling customers,” said Ms Pauline. “I can feel the positivity in my shop.”

Better yet, the idea seems to be catching on. Recently, two kids were outside the fridge. “After they left, I went to see what they had been doing and in the fridge was some pomegranates and sweets they had donated,” she said. “I’m so happy to see the message being spread to the next generation.”

Meanwhile, a half a world away, a Berlin supermarket has developed it’s own version of reducing waste — by eliminating food packaging all together.

Zero-waste grocery shopping

Not only has Original Unverpackt (“Original Unpackaged”) ditched plastic bags in a bid for less waste, but the German supermarket has also done away with all disposable packaging. Sporting 350+ products — such as fruit, vegetables, dried foodstuffs and pourable liquids like yogurt, lotion and shampoo, Original Unverpackt is the gold standard for promoting less single use waste.

Backed by a crowdfunding campaign, the supermarket is a grand experiment in sustainable living, putting stores like Whole Foods to shame. The products are largely organic and labelled with country of origin, which also steer clear of brand names. The pair behind the project, Sara Wolf and Milena Glimbovski, took the idea of “Let’s be real, try something impossible,” and ran with it. Soon, the packaging-free supermarket was born.

Customers either bring their own reusable containers or can purchase them at Original Unverpackt. Noodles fill glass containers. Cheese and sausages work in Tupperware. Due to strict hygiene rules in Germany, every container that is brought into the shop needs to be disinfected on-site before being filled.

One French woman who lives in Berlin is enthusiastic about the store. She told NPR Berlin:

“I have been shopping in the organic stores for the last 7 years and couldn’t understand, why there is always so much packaging and waste. I thought that packaging food also makes it more expensive to the customer. Also, the idea is fun – I just bought a bottle of lotion and shampoo and I think it would be fun to come back and refill. I’ve been looking for something like this for a long time.”

And yet, there will always be critics. Some complain the store could look more authentic, not so pretty and nice and bourgeois. Others point out there are too many logos around and it’s difficult to determine the price of the products before checking out.

Even with naysayers, it doesn’t look as though Original Unverpackt will be closing its doors anytime soon. With 100,000+ euros raised by crowdfunding, and another 40,000 followers on Facebook, along with a mass of volunteers, the store has firmly rooted itself within the Berlin grocery market scene. The founders are optimistic: “We can’t save the world with a supermarket, but every plastic packing that isn’t used, makes a difference.”

Likewise, in the next country over, a small grocery retail chain in France has embraced a zero-waste policy as well. Day By Dayoffers 450 loose products that are just itching to jump into reusable containers.

According to one of the shop owners, by purchasing package-free products, you can save up to 40% off your shopping bill.

She also reminds us that we minimise waste when we only buy the amount needed. As Katherine Martinko ofTreeHugger notes:

“This is not a new concept; it’s the way that many of our grandparents shopped. They would take a jar to the corner store to have it filled with however much of a particular ingredient they needed or could afford. While we enjoy a much greater selection of food than previous generations did, it is unfortunate that we’ve moved so far away from the bulk shopping model and the acceptance of reusable containers in stores.”

She adds:

“Stores like Day By Day show that the trend may be changing. Hopefully North America will take a lesson from Europe’s more forward-thinking grocery models and start realising that there is another way to shop that doesn’t involve vast quantities of plastic packaging waste.”

But this isn’t the only eco-friendly trend taking place in France. Another movement is directly targeting food waste from supermarkets.

Feeding the hungry while reducing waste

A law passed by the French senate in February 2016 forbids shops from throwing away good quality food that’s close to its best-before date. Instead, they are required to donate excess to charities and food banks, effectively providing millions of free meals every year to those who are unable to afford food for themselves.

Supermarkets are also forbidden from purposely spoiling food in an attempt to stop it from being eaten by people foraging the stores trash bins. A growing number of families, students, unemployed and homeless find themselves foraging the bins at night just so they can eat.

Some markets doused food in the trash bins with bleach, reportedly to prevent food poisoning for those who scavenge.Now food markets will need to sign donation contracts with charities or pay a €3,750 fine.

French food banks feel the new law is “positive and very important symbolically.” It will also increase the quality and variety of the edibles available at food banks, which will hopefully encourage nutritional balance, especially since there is currently a shortage of meat, fruit and vegetables. The law will also make it easier for the food industry to donate excess products directly from factories to food banks. Before the new law went into effect, such direct donations were a long, complicated and discouraging process.

ArashDerambarsh, municipal councillor in Courbevoie and also the man who spearheaded the push to end food waste in France, remarks:

The next step is to ask the president, François Hollande, to put pressure on Jean-Claude Juncker and to extend this law to the whole of the EU. This battle is only just beginning. We now have to fight food waste in restaurants, bakeries, school canteens and company canteens.”