How an Idea on Food Waste Uncovered the Need for a Full Systems-Change

March 30, 2024

There is enough food for everyone in this world. Yet, countless food-insecure groups still exist within our societies – this is the case for both developed and developing countries alike. In Europe and Central Asia alone, 22.8 million individuals experienced extreme food insecurity in 2020. Following the impacts of COVID 19, that is 7 million more than in 2019. 

So, what challenges food security? The simplest answer is the current systems themselves. Distribution, storage and affordability, take a huge toll on who can access food, and just as importantly, the proper utilisation of this food. To give a better visual: one third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally - an amount that could feed 3 billion people goes straight to waste.

What about Cyprus?

Cyprus is an island with a strong-standing food culture. Its strategic geographical positioning has made it a crossroads for countless civilizations to pass through, influencing many facets of its makeup, including food. Aside from impacting its recipes, behavioural traits have also been shaped. This heritage has rooted generosity in the heart of Cypriot hospitality. However, with abundance, comes waste. This can be identified through the island's well known meze/ meyhane style dinning (be it in restaurants or at home), which encourages tables to be filled with copious amounts of food; or simply the over buying/ stocking of products. Even though excessive quantities of food carry an innate positive connotation, the available data on waste the is quite concerning, with the island estimated to have the highest food waste generation per person with 400 kg of food per capita wasted in 2020 within the EU. 
*data only reflecting the Republic of Cyprus.


Agriculture plays an important role for the island’s economy, with a wide range of local food production such as fruits (like citrus, grapes, strawberries, olives) vegetables, as well as dairy (most notably halloumi/hellim) just to name a few. Unfortunately, a significant portion of produce is also lost to waste. Manufacturing, retail and distribution, and primary production make up for the majority of all food wasted. The current 'linear economy' model fates the life cycle of food to landfills prematurely, even before reaching the market - a short-lived sad ending of good food. This has a heavy burden on the environment. Moreover, the lack of reliable data for both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities signify the extent of the situation. 

‘It’s Just Too Good to Waste’ Food Waste Hackathon

In March of last year, under the spirit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Swedish EU Presidency Priority, Green Transition, UNDP Cyprus implemented a food waste hackathon, titled ‘It’s Just Too Good to Waste’ in coordination with CyprusInno, supported by the Swedish Embassy, German Embassy and the European Commission. 

The opening evening held an interactive panel discussion with four prominent speakers from the taking strides in the Cypriot food waste ecosystem. The discussions were followed by a Q&A session where participants and members of the audience asked the panellists questions to assist with ideation later.


The aim was to cultivate a cohesive environment for idea generation of innovative solutions that could address food waste issues in Cyprus. To strengthen this, UNDP’s Innovation Challenge modality was used – a modality that supports the creation and piloting of ideas in an accelerated manner.


The event brought a large group of people, all with a common interest in making positive change towards the issue of food waste prevalent in Cyprus. The vast majority of the participants applied individually, meaning that they met and formed into groups during the first hours of the hackathon itself. Witnessing the severance of ego for the pursuit of collective collaboration towards positive societal change was quite striking. 

Witnessing the severance of ego for the pursuit of collective collaboration towards positive societal change was quite striking.


By the end of the 2.5 days, a total of nine ideas were formed and presented to a mixed UNDP-heavy jury. Three of these ideas were selected to move onto the next round – the further development phase. This phase gave the finalists a one-month opportunity to continue developing their idea into a tangible project proposal with expert mentor support, sponsored by UNDP. 

The three submissions were then evaluated according to the following criteria: 

Evaluation Criteria

Clarity of submitted proposal (10%)
Degree of Innovation with Consideration of Risks (25%)
Development Impact and Project Quality, including Intervention Logic (25%)
Potential for Scale up and Replication (20%)
Long-term Sustainability (20%) 

The winner of the Innovation Challenge was a group who named themselves Cyprus Food Hub (CFH/the Hub). With the intention of being a non-profitable entity, CFH designed itself to collect surplus food from food producers and distributors, making it available to food insecure beneficiaries. The project’s main goal is to reduce per capita food waste in Cyprus. To achieve this, the Hub’s specific objectives look to:

  • reduce food waste throughout the food cycle;

  • reduce food insecurity;

  • promote zero food waste policies and interventions among food producer and distributors.

CFH’s main idea is to realise the collection and redistribution of food surpluses based on local networks using initiatives already in place, while filling the gaps to maximise their yields. The Hub has a modular set-up, and will comprise of (but won’t be limited to) three main components:

  • Food Hub social supermarket and storage unit;

  • Food Hub Network (FHN) to bring together existing initiatives, maximise resources, share logistical costs, and facilitate communication and coordination;
  • Food Hub Knowledge Centre to collect data and produce relevant knowledge on food vulnerability, nutrition, and food interventions in Cyprus.

As part of their preliminary feasibility study, CFH met with several charities and NGOs that currently implement food interventions. All of these organisations confirmed that demand for food support is high and currently exceeds the ongoing capacity. Logistics was also identified as a common challenge, where severe difficulties in storing and/or transporting food packages. This feedback has further acknowledged the need for such a project. 

The project holds an island-wide approach, ultimately making this a bi-communal effort. The modular set-up of CFH means that not all replications require to generate profit, nor has the need to recreate a whole ‘Hub’ set-up from scratch. A more refined feasibility study is required to identify the needs and possibilities in the Turkish Cypriot community. This way the most beneficial components of the project can be transferred to have the most impact, both for societal benefit and food waste reduction. 

CFH’s pilot has focused on solidifying the foundational components of their project. Six months on, these have been the main results of the pilot: 

  • Creation of a network between the Hub and relevant stakeholders. Several companies and NGOs have confirmed their interest in participating. 

  • Gained legal entity as ‘not for profit company’; 

  • Meeting with the Greek Cypriot Mayor of Nicosia, who has shown great interest in supporting the initiative and have initiated contacts also with Nicosia Municipal Multifunctional Foundation;

  • Meeting with Milano Urban Food Policy Pact team and initiated a collaboration to support the creation of Nicosia first Urban Food Policy Strategy.

  • Creation of their official CFH website (to be made available online by December 2024);

  • Design of a M&E framework to ensure constant learning from achieved results. 

The Gap

Through their journey of establishing a network of new partnerships with food manufacturers and supermarkets, CFH have exposed a great gap (and possible opportunity) in the food arena. One of its founding members, Sarah Lupu, explained that “there is an interest from companies, but like everywhere in the world, businesses are very much profit oriented.” She went on to explain the logistical challenges companies face when donating surplus food, highlighting the time-consuming process of sorting, selecting, and delivering donations. While the intention to donate is commendable, the practicalities involved often may be perceived to outweigh the benefits, as the resources expended in preparing and packaging the surplus food can be significant. 

Ironically, the alternative of not donating at all isn’t any better. 

Currently, foods that do not make it off the shelf, close to the 30-day expiry date, are returned to their importers. This incurs a substantial financial loss for businesses, as the returned product has already been paid for; every square meter of product returned to storage means that new products cannot be brought; and last, but worst of all, companies need to pay for these products to be thrown away. One example CFH spoke with makes an annual estimated profit of €20 million and throws away around €500,000 – €700,000 worth of ‘good’ food every year. Sadly, the main rhetoric from companies is that a loss will occur, but throwing food is easier than donating due to time and resource strains. But, what about the strain on our planet? 

So, what is the gap? There is no comprehensive mechanism promoting for inclusive and sustainable utilisation of excess food products. The prioritisation of profit-oriented competition prevails and the absence of economic incentives/ penalties only perpetuates this trend within business.

The next step, is to take a step back

Sarah expressed that their discussions with countless companies has proven the creation of a ‘small food hub to deliver to in-need beneficiaries’ alone, is no longer enough; “we need a full systems-change – a shared food policy, with a backbone contributing to circular economy.” Without this higher-level change, any intervention will have an expiry date, regardless of how forward-thinking. 

After consulting with numerous stakeholders, CFH has taken a step back. Recognising that engaging with potential partners on a one-to-one basis will not suffice, they have decided to discontinue the individualised approach to seeking collaboration/financial support. Now, the team is working on organising a large awareness-raising event, with the support of various members from international community, chambers of commerce and local community representatives. 

The intent is to convene key stakeholders from across the island's food industry, including suppliers, retailers, and logistics providers, with the purpose of rallying for collective action. This initiative will urge companies to align under a common pledge to eradicate food waste, maximise utilisation and give these resources another chance to reach their potential. Moreover, by redirecting surplus food to those in need, this effort will also serve to tackle ongoing food insecurity. The event will encourage stakeholders to create a ‘Food Waste Network’ and contribute to the realisation of the first food hub with in-kind contributions, donations, as well as financial support. However, the main aim is to work on a substantive food policy, all together. 

Sarah candidly expressed that, "from a business perspective, the current incentives for collaboration with us (CFH) may seem limited. However, from a humanitarian standpoint, there's an inherent value in being part of such crucial change. Even if we convince a handful of the stakeholders to make a modest contribution and/or take a certain action, that’s a significant step towards our ultimate goal.” 

Let’s remember that complex challenges require bold interventions; “we need to care, and we need to care together, because no one is an island.

Let’s remember that complex challenges require bold interventions; “we need to care, and we need to care together, because no one is an island.”