An ingenious food app is saving tens of thousands of food items from ending up in the bin – and bringing neighbours together in the process.
Almost 50% of all food thrown away in the UK comes from our homes, according to the Love Food Hate Waste campaign.
Some seven million tonnes of food and drink end up in the bin from households – but more than half of this could have been eaten.
Now an app is helping people with surplus food to connect with people who want to use it. It’s a simple premise: add your leftover food to the free app and someone will contact you asking if they can have it. They’ll then come and collect it and use it for themselves.
Alternatively, users are free to browse whats on offer to see if there’s anything they want for themselves.
If it’s not convenient for someone to pick up the food, users can leave it at a local drop point.
No matter if food is loose, raw, cooked, opened, unopened or whatever, as long as it’s edible, OLIO will take it.
Tessa Cook, who co-founded OLIO along with her friend Saasha Celestial-One explained where the idea for the app came from.
She told The Huffington Post UK: “I’m a farmer’s daughter, my parents were dairy farmers up in the middle of nowhere in North Yorkshire and so that meant that I had a bit of a misspent childhood working at home, feeding the animals in the field and just with my family I learned how much hard work goes into producing the food that we all eat. Farmers are regularly working 18-hour days.
“So as I result I was brought up in an environment where we would never dream of wasting food. I’ve always just hated food waste.
“The idea of OLIO came about when I was moving country in December 2014 and I found myself with some really good food – some sweet potatoes and cabbages – that, despite my best efforts, we hadn’t managed to eat.
“So on moving day I was supposed to be packing but couldn’t bring myself throw away this food. On a bit of a whim I stepped out on a wild goose chase with my toddler and newborn baby to try to find someone to give it to but I couldn’t. But I ended up going back to my flat and actually putting it in with my packing boxes and bringing it back to the UK.
“Through that whole ridiculous process I just thought ‘this is crazy, my food is wonderful and delicious and there’s no way it should be ending up in the bin. Why isn’t there an app that I can just post this to?”
OLIO was eventually born out of her frustration and Cook said that the team has been “overwhelmed” by how well it has been received.
They initially trialled the app around Crouch End and Finsbury Park in north London in July 2015 and by December 2015 had expanded it to the rest of the capital.
But demand began to grow, Cook explained: “Over half our downloads were coming from outside of London and some people were getting really quite angry with us that they couldn’t use the app.”
She added: “We have been quite honestly overwhelmed by how positive the reaction has been. It really feels to us like we are tapping into something very meaningful, having a growing number of people realise just how catastrophic food waste is and they recognise that this is problem that needs solving and we can use modern technology to solve that problem.
“As a result we’ve now had more than 2,000 people reach out to us to offer to volunteer.
“We’ve had over 45,000 downloads, the app has been used over 200,000 times and has saved tens of thousands of items of food form being wasted.”
Whether it’s trying to empty the cupboards of chocolate before embarking on an attempt to eat healthily or someone with a glut of fruit or veg from their allotment, OLIO allows anyone to post their foodstuffs.
The issue of food waste is incredibly serious to Cook and her team, she explained.
She said: “The average UK family throws away 22% of their weekly shop, which is worth £700 a year. So that’s £12.5 billion in the UK. It’s an absolutely monumental amount of money.
“Obviously morally and ethically that’s horrific when you think that a million people in the UK used a food bank last year. There are 800 million people worldwide who are starving and malnourished.
“Then also the fact that just terrifies me and blew my mind when I found it out is that food waste is the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after the USA and China. Food waste is bigger than all of transport. So we are throwing away food on industrial scales, over a third of all the food that’s produced globally with 800 million people and we are boiling the planet in the process. It’s really quite frightening.”
But not only is OLIO tackling food waste – it’s also helping to build relationships in local communities.
Cook said: “One thing we’re really loving is that although people are being attracted to OLIO because they hate food waste and/or they love a bargain. But what they say after they’ve used it is that they love meeting neighbours.
“It’s really, really powerful and it’s amazing for us as a team to think that every day hundreds of people across the UK are connecting with their neighbours, strangers are meeting each other on their doorsteps to share food and in the process of doing that they’re forming all sorts of incredible relationships.
“We have users emailing us every single day telling us how much fun their having and how much they’re enjoying using the app.”