In 2016, Ioana Man attended a youth conference in Italy called Think Global, Act Local. She attended as a representative of the Romanian environmental NGO, Society for Responsible Consumption.

At the conference, Ioana became familiar with terms like sustainability, recycling and food waste. As a third year psychology student studying in Cluj, Ioana returned home from Italy wondering how she might make sense of what she had learned and put this knowledge into action.

Two weeks after the conference, she returned to her native city of Aiud and gathered a handful of people to discuss a simple idea. The question was simple:

Could we feed poor families in the city with food products from the market vendors that were destined for the dump because they could not be sold?

“I knew that this kind of project could easily be organized, even in my city. However, I was still a little reluctant to face the reactions of the market vendors. I was expecting to find hostile people, but instead, many of them showed enthusiasm. ‘Finally, we’ve been waiting for you for God knows how long’, was more or less what people were saying,” shared Ioana.

Zero Waste: Diana Călin, Cosmin Georgiu, Ioana Man and Anda Goia

Since September, this unique team has collected over 1,000 pounds of vegetables, which have reached the homes of more than 50 impoverished locals.

The project adopted the name Zero Waste and was registered in a competition organized by the European Commission called Refresh, an attempt to create and develop strategic programs alongside European governments that will ultimately reduce food waste.

Out of the 47 European projects that made it to the finals, the Zero Waste team from Aiud received the most votes on the Refresh website with over 17,000 in total. The team will be heading to Berlin in May of 2017 to present their project at the REFRESH Food Waste 2017 Conference.

The initiative of these young people has touched an entire community. The people of Aiud discovered this “movement” through brochures, pamphlets and stickers that were distributed around the city.

As a result, once or twice a week, the Zero Waste volunteers arrive to pick up their “impost” vegetables that wouldn’t last another day on the stand, but are still healthy and edible. Zero Waste also has a specially designated stand in the food market where vendors can leave the products they no longer need.

Additionally, there is a bakery that now provides bread to the families who receive produce from the volunteers.

Ioana Man’s team consists of her mother, Laura Man – a teacher, Raluca Popan – an illustrator, Diana Ioana Călin – a consultant in sustainable development and co-founder of the NGO Society for Responsible Consumption, Anda Goia- specialist manager, Casandra Ioan – teacher, Cosmin Georgiu – a recruitment specialist and Andreea Mihăilescu – a student in the eleventh grade.

Ioana says that Zero Waste is starting to bear fruit and even generate provisions for the winter months.

“We contact the people whom we believe need some support, and we ask them if we can drop off some of the produce we collect from the market.

We’ve helped certain families on a variety of occasions. Once, when we visited a particular family for the third time, the mother asked us if we wanted to try the roasted vegetable spread she had made out of the vegetables we had previously brought. She told us that the spread had turned out incredibly well.

It was an emotional moment that encouraged me to become even more courageous and ambitious. People want to help each other. Now we are starting to find food sources for the winter months.”