This project faced significant obstacles in its implementation (from the pandemic, to delays and some insurmountable obstacles in terms of licensing or tendering, to difficulties in identifying proper sites for some of its activities); however, it has left a significant legacy, opening new ways of thinking about approaches of dealing with present environmental challenges.
It is interesting to note that the project, despite of the obstacles faced, achieved its objectives to one degree or another in terms of its environmental and technical dimensions (like development and implementation of the digital tool FoodSaveShare for the public and the RESOURCEMANAGER-FOOD (RMF) tool; installation and operation of the ACUs and home composters; installation and operation of the bioplastics pilot unit). The main failure of the project relates with the primarily social activities, i.e. the 2nd Opportunity Restaurant. This is worthy of reflection in this type of environmental projects and inside the A2UFood project team.
- Integrative / Holistic Approaches needed and promising
What I found very attractive, and still consider promising, in this project was its really integrative character: not only in terms of an integrated environmental approach to food waste management – i.e. reduction, utilisation of unused food, composting – but also in terms of integration of environmental and social concerns related to food.
This was a rather challenging approach, leading to a real need of cooperation across boundaries, like public – private sectors, civil society – public authorities – scientists, different departments of the Municipality. The partners nicely ‘packaged’ different elements of this approach in the project, in order to make them feasible. In addition, a diverse partnership – including the Municipality, ESDAK – a semi-public body with knowledge of the public administration processes but also freer in its regulatory framework, universities with expertise and experience in different aspects of the project and relevant projects, and a private environmental consulting company – contributed to the project based on their individual expertise and strengths. This allowed for the independent development of different parts of the project, but also integration amongst them.
Although the project did not fully achieve its objectives, it has set an example for this needed new integrative approach, revealing the challenges – especially in the simultaneous pursuit of environmental and social goals – and some possible approaches.
- Approaches that are well-rooted in Local reality and Local people
Despite some general trends and similarities, each context is unique and poses special challenges. Place-based approaches, which are well-rooted on an in-depth understanding of the local context and a realistic assessment of the opportunities and obstacles it poses, are needed. These approaches should build on the strengths of the local community.
Even more significantly, close connections among local institutions and people are fundamental. In the A2UFood project, it was helpful that most of the partners were local, with knowledge of the local context and vested interest in its enhancement. Furthermore, as the partners themselves indicated too, collaborations with other – external to the project team – interested local parties and groups of active citizens can be a key to the success of a project. In A2UFood, the collaboration with Chalkiadakis Super Markets and the Citizens’ group at Agios Yannis contributed significantly to the achievement of project objectives.
- Proper project coordination and communication
Innovative projects aiming to reduce-reuse-compost wasted food require integrative approaches. In this context, a tight coordination of the project team and among the different departments of the responsible municipality is fundamental. This also depends on continuous and effective communication internally – among project partners – but also between municipal departments that are called to contribute to the effective implementation of the project idea and plan. As public administration is organised in a fragmented manner, it is very useful to establish some interdepartmental body (as was done in this project) that can bridge the different Municipal departments’ perceptions and priorities for the benefit of the project but also take responsibility for such integrative efforts.
- Commitment - Ownership
Commitment to the project and its main idea is fundamental for the success of such projects, and the overcoming of inevitable obstacles. It is important that the whole team shares this commitment to the same goal and objectives. Sometimes, this may not be the case from the beginning; different members of the project team may have concerns or qualms about the idea or the project’s feasibility, as the benefits of an innovation are often not obvious from the start. This may be expected when different aspects of the issue – e.g. environmental and social – are targeted, thus implying the involvement of different departments or bodies with quite different thematic concerns. It is important that the team consciously works from the very beginning to build this shared sense of ownership among all the partners, via proper and regular communication.
But it should be emphasised that what is needed is a commitment not simply to the project, but most importantly to its vision; such commitment can carry through such efforts beyond the project end date. Also, long standing commitment and a sense of ownership is needed from the Municipal authority as a whole, not only the Municipal government that initiated the project. Such a commitment can mobilise needed resources (e.g. personnel, with appropriate incentives) to continue the project’s efforts after its end date.
The bioplastics pilot unit in this project is a good example, where the A2UFood partners have recognised its importance and have contributed own funds and human resources to continue it after the project end date, with the aim to obtain useful scientific and demonstration results. Furthermore, the Municipality of Heraklion has repeatedly stated its commitment to the 2nd Opportunity Restaurant and their intention to implement it, now that the studies for it are ripe. Given the present inflation in the prices of food stuffs and the rising concern for food insecurity, this may be a very opportune time for such an effort as well as for further mobilisation of local residents to participate in the effort to reduce their food waste.
Funding is always a challenge for such innovative ‘risky’ investments and public authorities rarely have sufficient funds. Thus, the continuation of such projects often depends on EU or government financial support, although Public-Private Partnerships have been repeatedly discussed. For innovations to be taken up as regular practices, it is good for the foreseen financial support to cover not only infrastructure acquisition but also operation and maintenance, and where possible not only within the lifetime of the project but also beyond its end date (something that requires additional budget flexibility). Funding the operation of innovative approaches for food waste reduction and alternative management can be connected with the landfill tax, a Pay As You Throw system or other similar schemes. With the recent Greek law which opened up possibilities for such financing approaches, this time period may be very opportune in Greece.
- A reflection on the Greek context
Especially for the Greek context, where trust to public authorities is lacking and the civil society has been shattered in almost 15 years of crises, public authorities striving to introduce new and more sustainable approaches to food waste (and not only) should work to cultivate trust among the public as an important element of such efforts. This requires continuous meaningful communication with local people, and open collaboration with local groups as equal partners in discussions and decision making.