According to the Natural Resources Institute Finland, 10-15% of all edible food ends up in waste in the country, where each person annually throws away on average 23 kilos of food. At the same time, some people are queuing for food in breadlines.
Nina Irjala, a second-year social services student at TAMK, started to think about what she could do about the problem. Her interest in the topic was aroused by TAMK’s Sustain 2017 event and grew when she looked at the institution’s sustainable development pledge whose goal is to make all TAMK’s operations more ecologically sustainable.
“TAMK’s pledge contained ecological but not socio-cultural aspects. I gathered a working group of students and we started to develop this dimension for the pledge,” Irjala says.
The socio-cultural dimension means activities that are related to human interaction and social participation.
The group work resulted in a concrete project: TAMK’s Campusravita restaurant started to donate its leftover food to the food bank managed by the Evangelical Lutheran Parishes in Tampere, which give the food to those who need it.
Campusravita prepares approximately 3,000 portions daily. Despite careful planning, leftover food cannot be completely avoided. Campusravita’s Restaurant Manager Jaana Ahonen and Kitchen Manager Marko Laitinen became immediately interested in Irjala’s idea.
Anita Aaltojärvi became the parishes’ contact person and the RuokaNysse bus the distribution channel. It circled around Tampere delivering food to the needy.
In September 2018, RuokaNysse started to collect food from Campusravita. In institutional kitchens, food can be refrigerated quickly, making it stay hygienic. The distribution does not create any additional waste because the food is packed in the restaurant’s spare dishes.
Irjala emphasises that the cooperation started easily because it only required the initiative, a couple of emails, and a meeting.
“Every Finnish comprehensive school and higher education institution could learn from our experience and donate leftover food to the needy. The breadlines are growing and more solidarity is required,” Irjala points out.
Irjala calls herself a consumption critic. She goes to flea markets and looks at offers on the ResQ application where restaurants sell their leftover food at reasonable prices.
Irjala’s interest in sustainable development and her wish to help arise from personal experiences. Before the social services studies, she worked as a waiter for 11 years and saw how much food went to waste. It felt bad, as the food offered at work was at times her only meal of the day.
“Poverty has run in our family, and I have been homeless, for example. At times the food at the workplace literally kept me alive,” she says.
Irjala now lives in the Nekala district in Tampere. Encouraged by the project, she asked the local shopkeeper Tapani Oijusluoma to also become a donor. His positive answer came within the day.
Next, Irjala is dreaming of a community fridge because one already exists in the Kallio Settlement House in Helsinki where shops, restaurants and people are able to donate food. For example, people who travel can take their food to the community fridge and avoid it going to waste.
“The fridge should be located in a place with free access where it does not affect the business of entrepreneurs. For example, a youth club or a church hall that are open late would be suitable,” Irjala says.
Irjala found it enlightening that waste reduction and helping mostly only require being active. She is specialising in entrepreneurship and child welfare in her studies.
“This left me with the idea that maybe I will set up a charity one day. I have experienced unemployment, exclusion and poverty and want to change social structures,” she says.
Irjala hopes that this kind of activity will be commonplace in restaurants in the future. It would be great to have large food producers participate in preventing waste and hunger.
“Please continue what I have started, look in the mirror and think of what you can do. It only requires one person,” Irjala encourages.
Edited on August 7th: Noted that RuokaNysse no longer operates.