Transition tales #14: #NoWaste

Milan is changing its beauty standards and defines new ambitions to fight against food waste with unglamorous fruits and vegetables. Can the ‘city of fashion’ set a new European trend for food waste?

For the past years, Milan has been creating a legacy in the fashion industry. Since 2015, the city has been registering a new focus on promoting sustainability with regards to food consumption and waste. Hosting the World Expo 2015 under the motto: ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’ has stirred Milan towards drafting a new policy which is to be promoted at an international level: the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact. What have been the implications so far?

Every year, in Italy, around 8.7 billion euros worth of food is thrown away. To this, Italian chef Massimo Bottura replied with a call for action, following the lines of Expo 2015. Under the motto ‘No more excuses’, the Michelin Star chef initiated a local soup kitchen in Milan, using food deemed to be turned to waste. Obtaining an old, abandoned theatre as donation from the Catholic Church, Massimo opened Refettorio Ambrosiano – a place addressed to the neediest residents of the neighbourhood.

Lunch time @Riva

The perks of having a world renowned chef opening a Soup Kitchen for the needy consisted in generous donations from famous designers, architects and other companies, that turned the abandoned Teatro Greco in a dining hall fit for Michelin dishes. Massimo also opened up Refettorio’s professional kitchen to over 60 work-class guest chefs, that shared their recipes and ideas for re-purposing day-old bread and banana peels. Over a period of 5 months, 15 tones of food waste were transformed into delicious meals that provided lunch for the neighbourhood schools and dinner for the homeless shelters in the area. Refettorio Ambrosiano became an illustration of what a Food Policy Pact can mean to a city and its residents. The success of the project has determined Massimo to continue developing ideas for future soup kitchens around the world that focus on reducing food waste and hunger. Refettorio Ambrosiano continues to function as a community kitchen for the nearby shelters, obtaining a daily supply of food from the supermarket waste.

@Isa Balena

Moving away from famous designers and Michelin Stars, the Italian fight against food waste takes place at an even smaller level, every Saturday on Viale Papiano. Papiniano is one of the 94 public markets in Milan. Open every Tuesday and Saturday, the market’s closing time is 6pm. The food distribution doesn’t stop at that time, though.

For the past year, instead of throwing away their boxes of unsold food, the merchants bring them to a corner in the market where they are welcomed by a group of young volunteers. Coming together under the name Recup, the NGO focuses on salvaging boxes of fruits and vegetables which are unsold due to the fact that ‘they are not pretty enough’ to attract customers.

Collection time @Recup

“give social value to what had lost economic value” – Virginia, volunteer Recup

Initiated by Rebecca Zaccarini, the NGO grew rapidly through social media, with more than 20 registered volunteers. The initiative falls under new grassroots activities that reflect the current Milanese ambition to promote a more sustainable approach to food among residents.

The idea behind Recup is simple: on the local market closing time, the young group of people gathers to talk with market vendors and convince them to donate the products destined to go to waste. After the collection process is over, they distribute the food to local shelters in the neighbourhood. At the beginning, the process was not too successful, resulting in one or two crates of fruit or vegetables. However, this did not discourage the group.

Now, two years after the project started, Recup is a familiar presence at the markets and expanded their donation list to bakeries and other shops located next to the market. A regular collection day results in about 150kg of food. It seems that awareness and perseverance can make a change.


These are just two examples of the ‘ugly food’ movement in Milan. More local initiatives, like Frutta Brutta, address food waste in Milan with a strong focus on having a social impact. Surprisingly, their impact goes beyond the social goals, by also improving the connection between local NGOs and the Municipality. Following the outlined principles in the Urban Food Policy Pact, the Municipality of Milan welcomes local initiatives and acts as a facilitator for projects in need of further development.

‘The issue of food waste reduction is an important part of our public policy. The city needs to act as a facilitator in order to help link up those who want to reduce food waste and those in need.’ – Anna Scavuzzo, Vice Mayor Milan

It seems that Milan is setting new standards with its international Urban Food Policy Pact. The question remains, will other cities follow this ‘unglamorous’ statement?

Watch the inspirational video below and re-think your culinary ingredients.

Transition tales

The stories we present reside at the intersection of planning, culture, politics and economics. We introduce a series of weekly uploads from a number of sources (conferences, interviews, summits), that offer a better image on the way cities are changing and what are the ideas behind this transitioning.

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