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Food Waste Around the World, Episode 39: Sweden

Food Waste Around the World is a Food Circle project to provide information and raise awareness about food waste. The project is designed as a series of interviews with students from different countries to understand how this issue is tackled and perceived around the world. This is made possible thanks to Sapient, the mother company of Food Circle, which every year offers internships to students from all around the globe, creating a uniquely multicultural environment.

Today we speak with Odette, who is living in Sweden!

"If we all talked about food waste more, it might encourage people to start thinking about making changes themselves."


But first, some context:

Before we get into the interview, it's important to look at some facts about Sweden's goals and performance.

What sustainable targets does Sweden have?

According to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12, Sweden is committed to these targets:

  • By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses

  • By 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling, and reuse

  • By 2030, ensure that people everywhere have the relevant information and awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles in harmony with nature.

What about its performance?

According to impact economist, Sweden is one of the leading countries in the world for tackling food waste. In 2021 Sweden was found to be the top performer in the world according to their Food sustainability index (FSI). For performance, Sweden was rated 6th.

However, it still recognizes that they “could still expand their set of actions and make better use of the legislation, market-based instruments and voluntary agreements in a complementary way.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk to our guest Odette.


“Today, I am interviewing Odette. We are going to be talking about the situation of Food waste in Sweden. How are you?”

I'm good. I'm pretty busy. I think I’m in the most brutal months of my academic career, but the sun is up, so I'm pretty happy.

“Can you briefly introduce yourself?”

Hi, I’m Odette. I am a student currently living in a small town in the southern part of Sweden. I have previously studied a bachelor's in political science, with a minor in economics and philosophy.

I would honestly say that I never thought about sustainability until a couple of years ago, maybe because it received more attention. I think people are becoming more aware of the severity of the problem.

“Did you grow up in Italy?”

Yes! I come from Naples, which is quite a metropolitan area in Italy. So it was a shock when I moved to Sweden. It's been a different experience from living in my home city.

I spent some time in the US and now in Sweden, and I enjoyed learning about a very different culture. I found friends with other international people because we shared the same experience of living abroad.

Many people in Sweden are vegetarians and vegans, and it encouraged me to make that change myself last September. I’ve been focusing more on changing my habits, and the culture here in Sweden has helped me a lot to do that. The work of others to spread awareness has brought sustainability and food waste to my attention and changed my own values.

It’s become more of a priority as I’ve got older and now I'm studying a master's program in service management and sustainability management. And since then, I’ve found out about, and started volunteering at, Food Circle!

“How would you describe the situation of food waste in Sweden?”

Unfortunately, Sweden and many European countries have a pretty high percentage of food waste. Individuals and companies are throwing away more than they need to. However, in my experience living here, I would say that people's efforts into solving this problem are impressive. I noticed that there is quite an extensive ecosystem of organizations working with food waste. Local products are ubiquitous too.

Swedish people are mindful of sustainability and reducing transport emissions. There are challenges, though: such as the weather and seasons. It's likely to snow for months and months, and the local food production suffers. Individuals must make compromises and sometimes adapt their diet to particular products.

“Are there any differences that you’ve noticed in Italians' attitudes towards food waste compared to the Swedes?”

It's not very commonly discussed by Italians. I didn't feel sustainability issues and, in particular, food waste as a worrying problem to be tackled. It was a moment of realization for me when I came to Sweden.

One reason could be the culture of homemade food in Italy. There are traditional dishes and customs which maybe aren’t sustainable but could be hard to change. Their solutions to reducing food waste in Italy only go as far as eating leftovers from the day before. More comprehensive solutions aren't discussed from what I’ve seen and conversations I’ve had. When compared to some of the initiatives they have in Sweden to deal with the waste: it's not there yet.

Maybe there's been more awareness in Sweden, there's definitely a difference there at the moment. The two nations are, I would say, approaching the problem differently.

“From your experience, which culture have you seen as more concerned with sustainability?”

I noticed that in Sweden there's a more minimalistic approach to design and I think this is an important step. Sustainability is trying to minimise waste, minimize consumption, or simply create value from what we already have. I see this in the design of Swedish apartments, shops, offices, and even fashion. I was impressed by how people wear the same things. This normalized the idea of using the same stuff repeatedly.

Another significant thing in many cities in Sweden is the second-hand shops. It's now becoming this growing thing in Italy but I never really shopped in them. Where I grew up, there were a lot of stereotypes about wearing something that was not new; it was dirty or not as valuable as a brand new item. There's a problem of always looking for new things over and over, of consumer culture. So I think this is the first step that Italians have to work on. As I did myself.

“Have you noticed any unique ideas that could have an impact if shared with other countries? Is there anything we can learn from the Swedes?”

I'm with an association of volunteers in Sweden which have a really good solution to food waste. Instead of throwing it away, supermarkets give us what is unsellable, but still nutritious. From then, you are welcome to consume it yourself, take it to charities and share with other people. This is an outstanding initiative, in my opinion. Stopping food that would otherwise end up in the trash, to churches or other charities.

I think this initiative it's not only for the environment but also for the Community and the people. I'm aware that it could be a challenge to reproduce in huge cities. But I’m sure multiple charities with the same goal could form networks and bring it to a larger scale.

“Do you know of any significant organisations that are tackling food waste?”

An NGO I’m aware of is called Local Food Nodes, and it's big, covering the entirety of Scandinavia. There's a lot of organizational effort to create these notes. To contact local farmers, institutions, or households to sell products that cannot be marketed through supermarkets and other shops.

The effects that they are producing reduce food waste and increase the revenue for those local farmers. They give products a second chance after being rejected because of cosmetic standards. Their target is to expand also into Spain, France, and Greece. I think it will become a big thing.

“What’s the most frustrating thing to you about Food waste?”

I get frustrated when thinking about all the people that have a shortage of food, while we are all basically wasting and just losing perfectly good food. It’s a big problem that we need to reflect upon. How are we producing the food? And what stops good food from being put on the shelves at supermarkets? Another thing is that we are also losing food because of maybe inappropriate technologies and agricultural problems.

We've become so picky. There's not a good reason for it, and it's frustrating. Third world countries and many people live in poverty, without enough food; would accept everything.

“Is there anything else you would like to add or advise? What can people do differently? You can go anywhere with this.”

I have first-hand experience in changing to a vegetarian diet. I do not expect people to change their habits in the short term. It still requires time because it takes a lot of motivation, and a change in your own values and priorities.

To change things, we need to change people’s behaviour and motivate them to take responsibility. People can be encou