Help Stamp Out Food Waste... With An App

By Jo Cooksey

Food waste is a subject that gets me on my soapbox in double quick time. I can’t bear it. With the Trussell Trust food banks alone providing 1,109,309 emergency food parcels in the year to April 2016, to me there is no greater sin than perfectly good food being thrown away. In our household we have absolutely minimised what goes into our brown bin every week and to be honest there was never much in the first place.

In the UK in 2015 we threw away food worth £13 billion. Yes, £13 billion worth of perfectly edible food. Only recently the Office for National Statistics estimated that 4.6 million of the UK’s population have been living in persistent poverty for at least three of the last four years. How far would that £13 billion pounds worth of chucked groceries have gone towards helping those people to eat regularly?

The figures surrounding food poverty are scary, so I am always looking for ways to cut down on waste. Recently a couple of apps came to my attention. There’s an app for everything these days, even minimizing food waste.

The first one was Olio, ‘a free app connecting neighbours with each other and with local shops & cafes, so that surplus food and other items can be shared, not thrown away.’ Anyone; be that a householder, a food business or a shop, who has left over food that would otherwise go in the bin, can download the app, take a photo of the item or items and then share it. People browsing the app can then request whatever takes their fancy and arrange a collection. This 21st Century version of bargain hunting is known as digital foraging.

Started by two women, Tessa Cook, a farmer’s daughter from Yorkshire and Saasha Celestial-One, the daughter of American hippies, Olio was launched in London in 2015. It now has over 16,500 users all over the UK and has it’s eyes firmly set on the rest of the world.

My first port of call was Olio’s website to find out what sort of food is considered shareable and it would seem anything goes. So why use Olio? Let’s say that you are going away on holiday and want to empty the fridge, then Olio it. If you have cooked too much of something, then Olio it. Got tins sat in the back of the cupboard that have never seen the light of day, then Olio them. Run a food business whose waste normally goes in the bin at the end of the day, then Olio it instead. Food past it’s ‘best before date’ is allowed, although food past its ‘use by date’ is discouraged. You can even Olio alcohol.

I downloaded the free app and started searching in the area around my office. One of the definitions of the word Olio is a miscellaneous collection of things and that is exactly what you get when browsing the app. There was one lady within 1.5km of me who had added several items, including a tin of strawberries, a Christmas pudding and an icing colouring set. Nothing I fancied there, so I started search further abroad. There wasn’t anything near enough to me or on my way home to justify the extra petrol spend but there were some interesting items. A chicken fast food shop 8km away was giving away 30/40 pieces of frozen chicken daily.

Finding Olio led me to Google, to search for any other examples of anti-food waste apps and the next one to pop up was Too Good To Go.

TGTG’s strapline is ‘Eat Well. Save Money. Save The Planet.’ and it promotes end of day food from restaurants, cafes, bakeries etc., that for as little as £2 a pop you can pick up, in an environmentally friendly box and take home. What’s not to love about that?

Brought to the UK from Denmark by friends Chris Wilson and Jamie Crummie in 2015, TGTG has gone UK wide, with Manchester coming on line last October. Again, this is free app-based food finder, which helps users discover what is available locally, by searching a postcode or name. As my office is near the centre of Manchester I was hoping there would be plenty of choice and I was only slightly disappointed. The majority of restaurants don’t have collections slots available until 30 minutes to an hour before they close, which when you think about it makes perfect sense. No restaurant would want to sell off potentially saleable food at teatime, when they have a whole evening service to get through. That’s fine if you live in the city and don’t mind eating until late but I commute to the suburbs at 5.30 so that type of eatery was out for me. However, there are lots of cafes and coffee houses in Manchester on the app, that close around 6pm. With thoughts of cut price cake whizzing round my sugar addicted brain I started searching.

The Teacup Kitchen, in the Northern Quarter, is a café I am familiar with and I know serves excellent cakes, so I quickly reserved one box through the app, paying £2 for it on line. Now there is no menu, you can’t choose what you have, it is literally potluck. So with slight trepidation as to what I would find in my box, I swung through Teacup’s doors at 17.50 on a wet, Tuesday evening. I said thank you to the lovely lady who served me and dashed back to the car to discover my booty. I was genuinely excited. It was the feeling you get when you are opening presents at Christmas. Oh joy of joys. Nestled in the box were not one but two, very large slices of Chantilly cream and fresh raspberry filled Victoria Sponge. They were so generous that they actually did my daughter and I two servings each. Looking at the Teacup Kitchen’s website, one slice of this cake normally retails at £4 so we had £8 of cake for £2. Result!

A week later I decided to try a different venue. Foundation Coffee House, also in the Northern Quarter, was the first TGTG sign-up in Manchester and although I hadn’t been in myself I had heard good things about them. Again, I just bought one box, this time for £2.50 and after work set off to collect it. This time there two boxes in the bag. Oooo, the excitement. The first one contained a delicious, tomato, mozzarella and pesto sandwich on granary bread. Now the sandwich bread was a bit stale around the edges but then that is only to be expected if it had been in the display since lunchtime and as I say it was very tasty. In fact, my daughter and I were hungry so we demolished it on the way home. The other box contained a pain au chocolate and a croissant, which when warmed in the oven the next morning were non-the-worse for their ordeal. Again, looking at the Foundation’s menu we had £6.50 worth of food for £2.50

Another big plus point of Too Good To Go for me is that you can pay forward meals for the homeless. I paid forward two meals at £1 each and was still in pocket for what I saved at Teacup Kitchen and Foundation Coffee House. Everyone’s a winner here.

I think both Olio and Too Good To Go are fantastic innovations, which make eating a little more exciting and are helping to make a dent in the waste food mountain that the UK generates every year. Let’s face it getting a bargain also engenders us with a slightly smug feeling. As contributors and users grow the better the experience of using these apps will be become.

Less waste, less cost and saving the world, one slice of cake at a time, can’t be a bad idea.

Photos: © Olio, Too Good To Go and Feedback