Tackling food waste: Local organization opens community fridges in the GTA

Restaurants and households can donate untouched food that would normally go to waste to a community fridge, and anybody in need can take what they want.

These fridges are a popular concept around the world, but are 1st to open in Toronto

Laylo Atakhodjaeva stands in front of community fridge in Parkdale. (Haweya Fadal/CBC)

In the alleyway behind Ali Baba's Middle Eastern Cuisine in Parkdale, there is a small industrial fridge with a sign that reads: "Take what you need, share with others."

A community fridge is a straightforward concept. Restaurants and households donate untouched food that would typically go to waste, and anybody in need of a meal can take what they want.

"Whoever is in need, like low income families who are struggling, can just go and open the fridge 24/7 and enjoy nutritious, good quality food," says Laylo Atakhodjaeva, co-founder of the non-profit organization that runs the community fridge.

Atakhodjaeva and her husband Shabeeb Hasan founded Road to Zero Waste, a grassroots organization focused on eradicating food insecurity in the Greater Toronto Area. They operate two community fridges, one in Rexdale and one in Parkdale.

"We got this idea that we have to do something about it, and it is a perfect opportunity for us to give back to the community," Atakhodjaeva said.

The community fridge gets restocked a few times a week with prepackaged sandwiches, cooked meals from restaurants, and snacks. (Haweya Fadal/CBC)

Suleiman Ahmad, co-owner of the Ali Baba chain of restaurants where the two shared fridges are located, says it is about helping those in need.

Every night, the restaurant packs up the extra food left over from the day and puts it in the community fridge.

"Instead of throwing it in the garbage, we know someone could use it," Ahmed said.

$31B worth of food wasted every year

In Canada, $31 billion worth of food is wasted every year, according to a report from Value Chain Management centre, an organization that brings awareness to issues surrounding food waste reduction and the environment.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted around the world every year.

A sign on the community fridge shows which foods are allowed. (Haweya Fadal/CBC)

The Muslim couple say these statistics, along with their religious beliefs, motivated them to launch their organization in December 2017.

"We're catering to people who really need the help, in an anonymous way," Hasan said.

Security measures in place

Beside each community fridge is a ledger, where people can list exactly what they have donated.

To prevent the food from being contaminated, tamper-proof security labels are left beside the fridge to be placed on the donated foods.

"We have security measures and we look at the fridge everyday or every other day to check the contents," Hasan said.

The community fridge is located at 1430 Queen St West in Parkdale. (Haweya Fadal/CBC)

Not all food will be accepted. A sign outlining what is allowed is clearly plastered on the fridge.

Unsealed or half consumed food, mouldy fruits or vegetables, along with raw fish, meat, and eggs are not accepted. Additionally, all prepared meals must be cooked by registered kitchens with a food safety certificate.

Concept gaining in popularity

Community fridges are gaining popularity across the globe. The idea started in Europe and has spread to communities in India and New Zealand.

Road to Zero Waste is planning the launch of a third community fridge later this year in Mississauga.

"We are planning to establish community fridges all across Canada," Atakhodjaeva said.

"We're trying to connect with more people and take that surplus food and recirculate it."