Four useful apps for cutting food waste

We review 4 innovative mobile apps using differing approaches to address the food waste issue.

Every year in the UK we produce around 10 million tonnes of avoidable food waste, that’s a mountain of waste roughly double the weight of the great pyramid.

Household waste accounts for the majority — 7.1 million tonnes — while an additional 1 million tonnes of waste are created by the hospitality sector.

Meanwhile, 8.4 million people in the UK struggle to afford to eat despite the endless expansion of global food production and agriculture that is rapidly killing our environment. It’s a situation that many say is morally unjust as well as unsustainable.

Can these 4 apps help to tackle these problems?

Olio

OLIO

Billed as ‘The food sharing revolution’, OLIO is a UK based start-up built around an app and website that connects individual users with surplus food to others in their local community that can use it. Food items can be anything from home made leftovers to wholesale amounts of pre-packaged ingredients, OLIO’s guidelines state only that it must be ‘food that you would be willing to eat yourself’, and before its “Use By” date.

It has been compared to the popular FreeCycle network in the way that it functions, and indeed it also includes a category for the giving and receiving of non-food items. Users can create an account for free and login either to post a new offer or to browse those posted by others. When you see an item you want, simply tap the ‘Request’ icon to send a message to the poster. If they accept, a collection can be arranged at a convenient time.

Range of items

The range of items on offer will depend a lot on your location, but typical listings include loaves of bread, home-made leftover cakes and packets of rice or pasta. The app also states the distance of each item from your location, which can sometimes be a little excessive for low value items.  Of course, those in urban areas are at an advantage here, but the more users who sign up and use OLIO, the more effective and useful it will become.

Some of the most common listings on the app are bulk offerings of packaged products from local businesses such as Pret A Manger. This is because OLIO recruits volunteer ‘food waste heroes’ who collect surplus items from partnered businesses and redistribute them through the app. Some 1,800 ‘food waste heroes’ are now active across the country and reports have highlighted how some people living in poverty in the UK are depending on OLIO’s service for regular meals.

Impact

Evidently, radical change is required in order to address issue of food poverty in the UK, and this will not be solved using simple apps. However, OLIO is showing how social platforms can help to reconnect people and promote values of sharing and mutual support within communities.

Availability

Anyone can register to use OLIO for free using the app for Android and iOS devices, or via a web browser. 

Food Cloud

FoodCloud

FoodCloud is an Irish social enterprise that enables businesses with surplus food to connect with charities that can use it. Their mobile app allows businesses to upload listings of surplus food to be viewed and requested by local users—a similar format to OLIO and Too Good to Go.

Unlike those other platforms, recipients must be registered charities who are formally enrolled with the service having undergone food safety checks. A separate arm of the business called FoodCloud Hubs operates three dedicated warehouses in Ireland, where larger volumes of surplus food are collected for redistribution.

In the UK, a partnership has been launched with the food redistribution charity FareShare, combining FoodCloud’s tech platform with FareShare’s existing network of charities and donors.

Range of items

The food donated via the service must be packaged or fresh items—cooked or prepared meals are not accepted. This means that many of the businesses that donate via the app are in the retail rather than the catering sector, while FoodCloud Hubs works mainly with agricultural and manufacturing businesses.

Impact

Although the financial benefits for those who donate food to the service appear limited, the opportunity to contribute to communities and enhance their green credentials appears to be attracting plenty of businesses to the cause.  Approximately 2,500 companies across the food supply chain are now using FoodCloud to distribute their surplus, including some big brand manufacturers and supermarkets.

The contributions are gratefully received by around 7,500 charitable originations including homeless hostels, crisis centres, care institutions and many more, which are then able reallocate a part of their food budget to other vital services.

FoodCloud claims to have saved 20,000 tonnes of food from the waste pile, while saving €61.5 million for charities in the process—a prime example of how technology can help to redress some of the injustice of food inequality while having a positive environmental impact.

Availability

Eligible charities and business can apply through the FoodCloud website to use the app and benefit from the service, which is now looking to expand internationally.

nowaste

NoWaste

This app approaches the food waste problem by seeking to promote healthy habits in the way we consume our food, it is a simple tool that enables householders to create a digital inventory of their food stocks and plan meals in a way that minimises waste.

Range of food

When new food is purchased, each item is recorded in one of three inventory lists, labelled Fridge, Freezer and Pantry. The name of each item can be selected from the built-in library (more obscure items may need to be entered manually the first time, but will be stored in the library for future use); the app also features a barcode scanner giving users the option to scan products using their phone’s camera.

Additional features include the ability to create shopping lists that automatically update to reflect existing stock, tracking the cost and percentage of food thrown away, and setting custom targets for waste reduction and savings. There is also a paid ‘Pro’ version of the app that allows you to synchronise your inventories across multiple devices, so people living together can work from the same lists.

Impact

To be an effective tool, the app demands quite a high level of commitment and discipline from users. The barcode scan feature is quite limited, as a lot of items are not recognised meaning that logging items can be time-consuming. However, there is an option to add new scans to the public database, which should improve the feature as the user base grows.

Since November, 2017, users have averaged a 94.2% consumption rate, wasting less than 6% of their food, which suggests the app is the tool is highly effective for those who have incorporated it in their daily routine. Moreover, apps like this one promote healthy habits and conscientious attitudes to food consumption.

Availability

NoWaste is currently available for iOS devices, although the development of an Android version is said to be planned.

Too Good To Go

Too Good to Go

Founded in 2015 in Copenhagen, Too Good to Go was launched in the UK in 2016, and now operates in Brighton, Birmingham, London, Leeds and Manchester.

The concept is straightforward: registered restaurants and catering businesses advertise their leftover food on the app. Users (officially known as ‘waste warriors’) can browse through the listed items, and tap to purchase a ‘magic bag’ of surplus food items to take away at a discounted price. The order can then be collected from the outlet during a specified time slot, usually around closing.

The app itself is simple to use. Just enter your location, scroll through a list of local restaurants displaying the number of available meals, and tap to order. Payment is made via the app or by using PayPal, and a receipt is generated to be shown upon collection. The discounts on offer are determined by the seller, but you will see plenty going for 50% or less of the stated retail value.

Range of food

To Good to Go now counts over 1,400 ‘partner’ outlets in the UK including some well-known chains such as Yo! Sushi, and a quick browse will reveal plenty of options if you live in any of the areas served.

The food on offer will vary in quality between restaurants, and the exact contents of the ‘magic bag’ are left a mystery, as it all depends on what food is left over. How fresh the food is varies as well, but meals offered will have been prepared the same day.

As stores cannot predict exactly which food will be available, vegetarians and vegans are advised not to order from establishments that also sell meat—fortunately, there appears to be a numerous 100% vegan establishments signed up to the app. The same applies to those will allergies, who would be strongly advised to contact the outlet before making a purchase.

Impact

The benefits of the app for its users are clear: businesses can recoup costs on food that would otherwise be wasted, while consumers can enjoy prepared meals at a discounted price.

But what about the impact on waste?

According to the official website, 10,459,101 meals have been saved through global usage Too Good to Go, which according to their calculations equates to 20,918 tonnes of Co2 emissions (although it unclear whether this accounts for the travel involved in collecting the meals).

It’s a novel way to get a takeaway on the cheap, and appears to be having a meaningful impact on food waste in the catering industry. This impact should only increase as more businesses sign up and the service expands to more towns and cities.

Availability

Too Good to Go is available as a free app for Android and iOS devices.

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