Fighting Food Waste with OLIO

Today I want to talk to you all about a kind of waste we haven’t really covered in Unicorn territory yet: food. I used to think that because food biodegrades it was basically fine wherever I put it, that food waste wasn’t a problem. Growing up we had a compost bin that we’d put on our garden, but moving to London 5 years ago meant this became a little trickier, especially as a lot of people in the city don’t have a garden at all. I thought it was ok anyway, turns out I was pretty wrong. Food waste, when it goes into compost, is great. Lots of nice goodies for the environment. When food waste ends up on landfill it’s a different story. Food waste that goes to the landfill breaks down anaerobically and produces methane; a gas 21 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. Not. Good.

Also, here are some stats from the Guardian:

‘Each year 1.3bn tonnes of food, about a third of all that is produced, is wasted, including about 45% of all fruit and vegetables, 35% of fish and seafood, 30% of cereals, 20% of dairy products and 20% of meat…The average family throws away £700 worth of perfectly good food a year, or almost or almost £60 worth of food a month. The average weekly expenditure on food and non-alcoholic drinks in 2013 was £58.80 according to the ONS, which means a typical family throws away a week’s worth of groceries each month.’

There are so many things that are problematic about this. On a personal level, it seems pretty stupid to waste that kind of money and resource. On an environmental level there are clear issues, but also on an ethical level it just seems wrong to waste SO much when there are so many people who don’t have enough to eat. It seems backward, and we can do better.

Luckily there are some awesome people out there trying to change this. The team over at OLIO developed a free app dedicated to both tackling the giant problem that food waste has become. The concept is simple: if you have any food that’s going to go to waste (you’ve got too much, you’re going on holiday, you’re a business with excess stock) you simply snap a quick picture of it and put it on the app. Other users in your area can then take this food off your hands by messaging you within the app to arrange a time and place to collect it. As well as doing the obvious of reducing food waste it also helps you save money and forge connections with your local community, as you often go to physically collect from people close to you who you may never have spoken to otherwise. With all these facts to hand I couldn’t help but be a fan, and so I became an OLIO ambassador (ambassador is a fancy word for volunteer but doesn’t it sound great?!)

So my role as OLIO ambassador is to spread awareness and get more people using the app, with the ultimate goal of eradicating food waste completely. Most people put up flyers in and talk to local businesses in their area however I am literally in the process of moving house to a whole new area of London so I’ve not exactly forged any local connections yet. Luckily I have a blog, which is basically like putting flyers up but on the internet right? Olio is available in 33 countries including the US, EU, South Africa, Namibia, Australia and New Zealand, so you can all use it. Consider yourself flyered to!

As well as spreading awareness I am also working specifically with a local cafe in London. One day each week (there’s a group of us taking shifts) I collect their leftover food at the end of the day to post on OLIO, and last week was my first ever shift, so I thought I’d give you a quick insight into my experiences. Firstly, there was SO MUCH left over. I used to work in a cafe when I was studying and take home leftover food all the time, but the cafe where I was used to have a lot of staff, so we’d split the load evenly. This cafe was bigger, but with less staff (it sells food as a market as well as the usual cafe so there’s more food stock). I took home 5 bags worth of food and still couldn’t get everything, we’ve had to add a second person to my shift day in order to make sure nothing goes in the bin. I got a LOT of confused looks as I carried what felt like an entire bakery home, but within an hour of posting on the app most of my wares were claimed. One girl came to my house, she was about my age and really cool, I met another woman by a tube station. It really was exciting to have small moments of conversation with other interesting people, who move from being strangers to people on the same mission as you. The 5 minutes of weird looks from carrying six thousand baguettes (slight exaggeration) is totally made worth it from these small moments of connection and the feeling of doing something useful. You never know who you’ll meet, and you never know the potential extent of your impact.

The coolest part is of course the happiness of knowing that resources aren’t being mindlessly wasted. OLIO is a perfect example of changes at a micro level that ripple outwards; on my own it’s incredibly easy to pop a picture of a leftover sandwich online and then meet someone at my door and hand it over, on a wider level step by step food waste is eradicated. ALSO, you could get a free meal or two out of it yourself if you’re claiming items too. OLIO is taking off, and it’s not surprising. They recently expanded beyond food to allow other items to be listed, and it’s a real mixed bag on there. I’ve seen people giving away  (or selling very cheaply) everything from coffee filters to sofa beds, all in an effort to divert ‘stuff’ mindlessly going to landfill. We have so much stuff in the world anyway, it just doesn’t make sense to put it in a random pile in the ground. Recycling is so easy, and yet so effective. If I could urge you to do one thing today, it would be to download OLIO. The more people use it it, the more powerful it becomes, the more communities talk to each other. Wins wins wins, so spread the word! Talk to your local food businesses, your friends, your family, your neighbour. Let’s get everyone in on this.

And for any other food waste you might have out there, genuine waste like fruit skins or teabags, here’s a little video that tells you about food recycling that you can implement at home:

Food Waste – how it is recycled from RecycleNow on Vimeo.

If you don’t have these systems where you live I would encourage you to write to your local MP, representative or council about getting them in place, it’s time to stop this food waste nonsense! It’s such a ludicrous problem, and together we can fix it.

Until next time, stay magic y’all.

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