If you’ve ever gone to restock your fridge and had to start by throwing away unused food, you’re not alone. Between 33 per cent and 50 per cent of all food produced globally is never eaten, according to London-based tech business Olio.
That’s in a society where thousands of people are going hungry. Then there’s the environmental impact of throwing away such a large amount of food.
Tessa Clarke and Saasha Celestial-One founded the food-sharing mobile app after Clarke found herself moving out of an apartment with leftover food she couldn’t take with her.
“I thought knocking on neighbours’ doors would be inefficient and socially awkward,” she said. “There was an app for everything so why wasn’t there a digital solution to this problem. We researched the problem of food waste and it became impossible to turn our backs on it.”
The app piloted in 2015 and was officially launched in the UK in January 2016. Users with food to share create a listing with photographs of their bag of potatoes or loaf of bread, for example. Nearby Olio members receive an alert notifying them a new item has been added and, if successfully chosen to receive it, they arrange pick-up.
The app has 650,000 users who, together, have shared just under one million portions of food. Environmentally, that’s the equivalent of taking more than two million car miles off the road. Half of all food listed is requested within two hours and friendships and relationships have even formed on the back of the Olio community.
“What’s exciting is that we’re doing 0.001 per cent of our full potential, which makes you realise how much impact we could have,” said Clarke.
“I think there’s something very human about disliking throwing away food and the flipside is it feels amazing to share food with people who want it or need it. Olio has tech at its heart but it’s really about connecting people who live next to each other and turning them from strangers into friends.”
Aside from the individual contributors, cafes and restaurants have got on board, with coffee chain Pret the first major client to sign up to donate surplus food that cannot be sold at the end of each day.
With the likes of Sainsburys and Hello Fresh following suit, Olio has 2,500 ‘food waste heroes’, volunteers who collect donations from their local supermarket, café or deli and distribute it among the community.
Three quarters of users are UK-based, though Olio is active in 41 countries in total. There are 20,000 volunteers spreading the word via social media, with the Twitter account @Olio_stories used to share tales of leftover apples that found new life in a crumble or the unsold boxed salads that have gone to feed a family.
This is only the start, though, and Clarke and Celestial-One have huge ambitions for the app that seems to have struck a chord worldwide.
“We’re working towards having one billion people using Olio in ten years’ time so that it becomes second nature to share surplus food with your neighbours rather than letting it go to waste,” Clarke said.
“Over half of all food waste takes place in the home and the average UK family throws away £800 of food that could have been eaten every year. On one hand it’s exceeded our wildest expectations already and, on the other, we’ve got a long way to go.”