An app to share your leftovers?
Worried about the issue of food waste and how the enormous problem is contributing to climate change, we're well versed now in steps that can be taken to avoid throwing perfectly good food into the bin. For our food waste topic though, we got the opinions of some experts including this brilliant interview with Tessa who founded the food waste app, OLIO.
OLIO is a free app that connects neighbours with each other, and volunteers with local shops & cafes, so that surplus food can be shared not thrown away. Users simply snap a picture of their items and add them to OLIO. Neighbours then receive customised alerts and can request anything that takes their fancy. Pick-up takes place - often the same day - at the home or another agreed location. Items typically found on the app include food nearing its use-by date from shops, cafes and markets; spare vegetables from the allotment; cakes from an amateur baker; or groceries from household fridges when people go away, move home or start a diet. All the food on OLIO is available for free, and half of all listings are requested in less than 1 hour! OLIO also has a non-food section for other household items such as toiletries, kitchen equipment, books, toys & clothes. Since being made available in the UK just over 3 years ago, 1 million people have joined OLIO and shared almost 1.5 million portions of food.
ATF: I love what you're doing to champion food waste. Can you give me a little background. Who are you and what did you do before starting your business?
OLIO: I’m a farmer’s daughter, and so have always hated throwing away good food. This is because I know from first-hand experience just how much hard work goes into producing it! I didn’t really think much of this though, and after University went off and had a fairly classic corporate career which involved me running digital businesses in the media, retail and financial services industries. Whilst I always enjoyed my jobs, I didn’t find my true passion – and fulfilment – until I started working on OLIO.
ATF: When did you have the idea to create a business around the challenge of food waste? Did you have an 'aha' moment?
OLIO: The inspiration for OLIO came approximately 4 years ago when I was moving country and found myself on moving day with some good food that we hadn’t managed to eat, but that I couldn’t bring myself to throw away. And so I set off on a bit of a wild goose chase to try and find someone to give it to, and I failed miserably. Through the whole process it seemed to me crazy that I should have to throw this food away when there were surely plenty of people within hundreds of metres of me who would love it, the problem was they just didn’t know about it. And so the idea of OLIO, a mobile app where neighbours and local shops & cafes can share surplus food, came about.
ATF: When did you realise that food waste was a huge issue?
OLIO: Once I’d had the original idea, the first thing my Co-Founder Saasha and I did was research the problem of food waste more broadly, and what we discovered shocked and terrified us. Globally one third of all the food we produce gets thrown away, which is worth over $1 trillion p.a., meanwhile 800m people go hungry (who could be fed on a quarter of the food we waste in the West), and if food waste were to be a country, it would be the third largest source of greenhouse gases, after the USA and China!
ATF: Where do you think most food waste occurs – at home or by companies?
OLIO: Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions in the area of food waste, is the belief that the majority of food waste takes place at retail stores. In fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth! In the UK, well over half of all food waste takes place in the home, with the average family throwing away £800 of food each year that could’ve been eaten, collectively adding up to £15bn! This is in contrast to less than 5% of all food waste which is generated at a retail store level. The simple reason for this surprising fact is that there are 27 million households in the UK, each throwing away approximately ¼ of the weekly shop, in comparison to just a few thousand retail stores that throw away less than 1% of their turnover.
ATF: What food or food group gets wasted the most?
OLIO: The most wasted food is bread – with approximately 24 million slices being thrown away per day by UK households. Other foods that are at the top of the listing include milk, potatoes, cheese and apples.
ATF: Do you think that the tides are turning and that we'll see less and less food wasted every year?
OLIO: Sadly a report issued by the Boston Consulting Group last year shows that instead of food waste halving by 2030 – which is what is required to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal number 12.3 – food waste is currently projected to increase by approximately a quarter in that time frame. And here in the UK, whilst there was a significant decline in household food waste from 2007-12, unfortunately from 2012-2015 it was on the increase again, with no real signs of levelling off. So this really is an issue that needs urgently addressing.
ATF: What's your favourite food rescue story?
OLIO: Honestly, too many to recount!! Recently we had a couple of thousand cheesecakes that a train operator contacted us about and we had just a few hours to collect and redistribute them, which thanks to our amazing Food Waste Heroes (volunteers) we managed to achieve, and I think we made a lot of OLIOers very happy in the process.
ATF: If you could solve one problem around food waste tomorrow, what would it be?
OLIO: It’s not particularly exciting, but one of the biggest things we can each do to reduce our personal food waste is to plan our meals, and then shop and cook accordingly. We recognise however, that it can sometimes be hard to plan in advance, which is why OLIO is an easy option if you find yourself with more than you need!
ATF: So there we have it. Let's stop throwing bread away. I personally don't know how this happens. A lover of butter, I love it when the bread goes a little stale so it has to be eaten right now, and needs even more butter melted on the toast to make it, you know, delicious.