Sharing is all the rage these days. Homes, cars, driveways, even surfboards – you name it, people are doing it. Does the same go for food? For thousands of years throughout history, yes, but less so in modern days. OLIO thinks it’s time to reverse that trend with their innovative mobile app, because food waste is too big a problem to ignore.
Food waste is a problem that affects households, businesses, governments and our wider ecosystem. Indeed no-one escapes its reach. There’s the economic cost to families (the average family throws away £700 of food that could’ve been eaten each year), and local councils (who have to spend millions of pounds on food waste collection and disposal), the opportunity cost to local stores for their unsold food, and then the environmental cost to us all in colossal carbon emissions (food waste is the 3rd largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after the USA and China).
So you might assume the issue has been a mainstream talking point for many years? Surprisingly not. While huge progress has been made in getting food waste onto the agenda over the past 12 months, the reality is that it is only just starting to enter the public and political consciousness. Whatever the reasons for low awareness to date – be it our culture of plenty, a lack of credible solutions, or simply having other things to worry about – a number of initiatives are giving us reason to believe that more and more people do want to bring about a low-waste future.
For example, ‘No waste’ restaurants are emerging all over the world, and one in particular recently caught our eye. The city of Brighton – the latest home for our food sharing app OLIO – boasts Silo, an innovative eatery which eliminates waste by trading directly with farmers, employing reusable delivery vessels and choosing local ingredients which themselves generate no waste. Meanwhile, the Real Junk Food Project is a global, organic network of ‘pay as you feel’ cafes which divert food destined for waste and use it to create delicious and healthy meals. Within the space of just two years, the network has grown to 200 cafes worldwide.
Elsewhere there are manufacturers which are similarly capitalising on food waste. Jam and chutney producers Rubies in the Rubble source all their fruit and vegetables from surplus stock, fresh from the market before they are discarded. Snact make their snacks from surplus produce that would otherwise be thrown away for being ‘too big, too small, too ugly, or simply too abundant’. This model can even apply to alcohol, with Toast Ale following a special Belgian recipe that includes fresh, surplus bread that would instead have been wasted. What we especially admire about these ventures is that they are not popular in spite of using surplus produce, but because they use it. Proof, perhaps, that prioritising waste reduction can even serve as a selling point, rather than a handicap.
Away from the commercial front, high-profile campaigns led by passionate individuals are capturing the public imagination. Under the #wastenot banner, renowned chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is successfully pressuring supermarkets to ease the cosmetic requirements of the fruit & veg they deem fit to sell, while Tristram Stuart’s Feedback – an organisation that campaigns to end food waste at every level of the food system – goes from strength to strength. His movement is nearing 50,000 followers, attracting people through events such as Feeding the 5000, a ‘celebratory feast drawing attention to the amount of edible food thrown away’, or The Pig Idea, which aims to encourage the use of food waste to feed pigs.
Major institutions are joining in too. The French Government has recently banned the country’s supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food, while their British counterparts are taking action into their own hands, with Sainsbury’s ceasing Buy One Get One Free offers, and Asda selling Wonky Veg boxes. At the same time, a Food Waste Bill is passing through the UK Parliament seeking to cut down the amount of food needlessly wasted across the food industry supply chain.
The activity outlined above covers a wide spectrum, ranging from the large to the very small-scale, and we’re proud to offer another unique solution into the mix – namely a free app that connects neighbours with each other and with local independent shops so they can share their surplus food, rather than throw it away. We’re just over 6 months old, but growing fast and are delighted to join the wider debate, because ‘how do we tackle food waste?’ is a conversation that needs to be had.
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Photo Credit: Henry Huey on Flickr.