More than 800 million people go hungry in the world every day. And it’s not just in poor and developing countries. It is estimated that in Europe nearly 40 million people do not have access to a sufficient daily calorie intake (2,000 calories). While many start-ups are putting anti-waste at the forefront, there are several free and non-profit initiatives, like Little Free Pantry, emerging too.

Self-service larders in the USA, Canada and the Netherlands let people in need feed themselves, benefiting from community surplus.

Self-service ethical pantries


No doubt you’ve heard of free libraries. Popping up in parks and other public places, people can drop off books they’ve already read and pick up others. No one checks or monitors, they work on the basis of good will and respect on the part of the users. Inspired by their success, the Americans have tried it again, but this time with food.

It’s free and open source

The scheme was started in Arkansas in 2016 by a 44-year-old mother who was surprised by the free books craze and thought that the idea could be transposed to food.  She made the first free food pantry where everyone could drop off food and stock up. She then explained the system on social media and a dedicated website, and it all went from there.

More than 600 Little Free Pantries in the USA.


In just a few months, the movement has spread across the country and handmade pantries have spontaneously sprung up on street corners. The designs are available on the website and here are even do-it-yourself kits available on Amazon. With time what’s on offer has diversified and you can find toiletries and hygiene products such as toothpaste and shampoo.

Solidarity and respect

What’s really impressive is that contrary to what people may have thought, these unsupervised self-service larders are self-regulating (they are regularly refilled and emptied) and there have not been any thefts or vandalism. The pantries are respected and moreover, they bring together whole communities that share the values of solidarity, sharing and a refusal of wastage. So tomorrow, rather than putting out a bin full of surplus food, why not take it to the pantry down the road.