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In Spain, restaurants and residents take their leftovers to a communal fridge

If you travel to Bilbao, a city in Spain, you’ll see the Guggenheim (sister to the museum in New York), streets lined with shops and restaurants, and the Zubizuri bridge stretching across the  Nervion River. Head further out, to the Basque town of Galdakao, and on one sidewalk, you’ll see a refrigerator.

Surrounded by a fence, it’s a permanent installation, not an abandoned eyesore. Alvaro Saiz came up with the idea of a communal refrigerator, where anyone could take and leave what they wish. The idea perhaps seemed natural to him because he used to run a food bank. Named the Solidarity Fridge, it’s been in place since April, and the idea is to reduce food waste. Restaurants, grocery stores, and residents all contribute items, from milk to fresh vegetables to baby food to ribs.

“The idea for a Solidarity Fridge started with the economic crisis — these images of people searching dumpsters for food — the indignity of it. That’s what got me thinking about how much food we waste,” Saiz told NPR. There’s a German website that helps users share leftovers, but Saiz was looking for a solution that would help elderly residents who don’t go online.

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To try to make things a little safer, there’s a ban on raw meat, fish, and eggs. Those dropping off homemade items label them with the date. Volunteers toss anything that’s been hanging around for four days, but Javier Goikoetxea tells NPR that they hardly have to throw anything out; everything gets scooped up so fast. “We even have grannies who cook especially for this fridge,” he says. To protect the city from lawsuits, the mayor granted it independent legal status.

We’re not sure that this idea would ever fly in the U.S., but it’s spreading in Spain. On the country’s Mediterranean coast, the town of Murcia has opened its own Solidarity Fridge.