• Keeley Durnell

Fighting Food Waste: Meet the Apps Hungry for Change

If you are anything like me, then you love your food. But even if not, we all know that eating is just a necessary part of human existence. So, it makes sense that, especially in times like these when food is harder to get hold of due to the pandemic, revenue from takeaway sales have gone up from $107.4 million US dollars worldwide at the end of 2019, to $136.4 million by the end of 2020.

I’m sure the 1.64 billion customers that ordered these takeaways enjoyed their purchases immensely, but what happens to the rest of the stock left sitting on the counters of restaurants and cafés at the end of the work day? Anything that cannot be reused or resold at a later date gets thrown in the waste.

That probably doesn’t seem like a very surprising fact, but it bears thinking about on a deeper level. 28% of the world’s agricultural areas are utilised for production of food that goes to waste. Approximately one-third of the food that is produced for human consumption is thrown away annually (1.6 billion tonnes), which equates to $1.2 trillion US dollars. Of this figure, over 20% is discarded by restaurants and takeaway outlets.

Why is this a Problem?

These figures cause problems for sustainability in several ways. Firstly, in terms of the soil in the agricultural areas used for food production, which are potentially being overharvested and overworked for crops that are then wasted. Secondly, because of all of the forms of energy used in the production of the food and its packaging (people’s labour, water usage, electricity etc.), only for the food to be thrown away.

But the most direct way we can see the effects that food waste has on sustainability is in terms of the greenhouse gases the waste produces. The problem lies in the methane emissions that the rotting food and its packaging produce on the rubbish heap. The emissions from food waste amount to 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which trap heat in the atmosphere and radiate it back down to earth, thus contributing towards climate change and global warming. Getting rid of the greenhouse gases produced by food wastage would be the equivalent of taking 1 in 4 cars off of the road.

But don’t worry about having to cut back on your Big Macs and special fried rice, as there has been a rise in food waste apps that have been developed to help combat the problem. Apps such as Too Good to Go, Karma, OLIO, Your Local, Food for All and ResQ have been developed for use everywhere from New York and Boston, to Malaysia, and all across Europe. These apps are taking consumers by storm by allowing them to continue to indulge in their takeaway favourites, without the guilt about waste eating them up.

How Do the Apps Work?

Most of the apps operate on a similar basis, but let’s use Too Good to Go as our example as it currently stands as the UK’s most popular with 3.9 million users. Firstly, the businesses in the operating countries sign their restaurants up for the app. In the UK alone, 6,721 businesses are currently signed up, constituting many small standalone restaurants, as well as corporate giants such as Costa Coffee, Patisserie Valerie and YO! Sushi. At the end of each work day, each restaurant compiles bags of food which the app labels ‘magic bags’, and they are listed onto the app at a set price (dependent on what is inside). The customers are then free to peruse the app, picking their favourite restaurant, and seeing a limited description of what is inside each bag so that they can filter by general food item (e.g cakes and pastries, main meals etc.) and dietary requirements. Then it is as easy as adding it to their basket, paying and popping out to pick it up from the restaurant.

Love Your Food, Love Your Planet

Too Good to Go states that each magic bag sold (and consumed) saves 2.5kg of carbon dioxide emissions. That is enough gas to fill two bath tubs! And I know you might be thinking, ‘oh dear, but people always make saving the earth sound so expensive!’, but you needn’t worry, there are a variety of price brackets available from each restaurant - again depending on what goodies you will find inside - and these prices will still be heavily discounted from their usual retail price.

And on top of all of that, if you pay and then find you can’t go and pick up your order, the restaurant will confirm that you have not picked up your bag and you will receive a full refund. What’s not to love?

Taking the statistics found on the Too Good to Go, Karma, and OLIO websites, app users have saved over 72 million meals from being discarded and harming the planet. Now that is an impressive feat!

Pete Pearson, the senior director of food loss and waste at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) tells us that we have ‘enormous power as individuals to drive change and make meaningful reductions through incremental and easy shifts in our habits.’ So how about it? Next time you fancy treating yourself to an indulgent post-workout meal, try downloading one of these apps and do something nice for yourself, and for your planet.