It all started with six sweet potatoes, a whole white cabbage, and a few pots of yoghurt. Growing up on a dairy farm in North Yorkshire, Tessa Cook was instilled with the belief that food is meant to be eaten, not thrown away, at an early age. Moving back to the UK from Switzerland in 2014, Cook was distressed by having to leave behind those perfectly good groceries: “(I kept thinking) why isn’t there an app where I can share it with someone nearby who wants it?”
Three years on and that app might still be in its infancy, but over 445,000 items of food have already been saved from going the same way as Cook’s fated sweet potatoes. The Yorkshire-born entrepreneur and partner Saasha Celestial-One (the daughter of hippies, in case you didn’t guess) have taken OLIO from nice idea to a platform dubbed the ‘Tinder for food’ – an analogy important to this story.
Between 33 and 50 per cent of all food produced globally never gets eaten. The value of this wasted food? Over $1 trillion. Put into perspective, food waste in the United States represents 1.3 per cent of the country’s total GDP. Aside from finances, this sort of waste is a moral and environmental catastrophe. The wasted resources used in creating this uneaten food combined with the poisonous methane created when it decomposes on a landfill makes for an ugly blot on the environment; that 800 million of us end each day hungry should infuriate even the most flagrantly wasteful.
A quarter of the world’s fresh water supply is used growing food never eaten. Were it a country, food waste would be the third largest contributor to greenhouse gasses after the US and China. The concept of ‘zero waste’ should not be seen as a trend, but as a critical situation for humanity to overcome. Cook and Celestial-One are a tiny part of a much wider picture, but in OLIO they have created a tool capable of being much more.
“OLIO is a brilliant app that makes tackling food waste very straightforward”, says Paul Crewe, head of sustainability at Sainsbury’s. Simple and with a familiar interface, it’s exactly that straightforwardness that could make the app such a game-changer – equally, the ubiquity that such a platform establishes.
Hotels have bottom lines, and as such are already seriously looking at waste. Hyatt have recently conducted a study of buffets in conjunction with renowned design and consultancy firm IDEO (33 per cent of food hits the landfill) as part of an initiative launched by the WWF, Rockefeller Foundation, and the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) that saw the Chicago-based hotelier joined by fellow giants Hilton, Hyatt, InterContinental Hotels, and Marriott International in signing up to a 12-week pilot programme aimed at testing a range of different technological and behaviour change approaches to tackling waste.
In fact, there are initiatives aplenty, and independent hoteliers and restaurateurs are lining up to shout about their waste-saving credentials. In grounding their operations at consumer level and drawing analogies like the ‘Tinder for food’, though, OLIO gives such initiatives a friendly face – an opportunity to make food sharing a verb. “Did you OLIO those sweet potatoes?” Already the world’s biggest food sharing application, with some 320,000 users, Cook, Celestial-One, and the rest of team OLIO have already added business operations to their arsenal, recruiting volunteers to manage 24/7 pick ups that will redistribute unsold food. “It was heartbreaking putting good food in the bin”, explains the manager of London deli Sourced Market. “With OLIO we are saving time and money, as we are reducing our waste and paying less for our garbage collection.”
If sharing leftover food became as universally normalised as eBaying your unwanted family heirlooms, a serious dent could be made in those troubling statistics. In OLIO there is hope, and that’s what makes this project such an exciting prospect. Sharing is caring.
James Davidson is Editor-In-Chief of We Heart, an online design and lifestyle magazine that he founded in 2009 as a personal blog and now receives over half a million monthly views.