Today marks the start of Waste Week, a campaign to get people to think about food waste and its effect on the environment. UK households bin £12.5 billion worth of food every year, which is bad for our wallets but also for the environment as our food waste is one of the worst emitters of greenhouse gases. We’re big believers that tech can make the world a better place and we’ve been impressed by a food-sharing app that helps prevent waste: OLIO.
OLIO was founded last summer by Tessa Cook and Saasha Celestial-One, two “mums on a mission” who met at Stanford Business School. Both are no strangers to food waste, growing up in rural communities. Tessa grew up on a UK farm and Saasha is the daughter of Iowa hippies. They decided to create an app that simplifies the sharing of food.
The app lets you connect with neighbours and nearby shops so your extra food can be shared rather than wasted. Shops are using OLIO to get rid of products close to their use-by date; people use the app to donate surplus veggies from their patch; and people going on holiday can ditch the contents of their fridge with someone appreciative before it all goes off.
OLIO is really simple; you just take a picture of your food to advertise it. You can search and request items and receive notifications when they’re available. We spoke to Saasha Celestial-One to find out more about the app and what it is they’re trying to do.
OLIO is using technology to help the environment. What would you say to those who blame our reliance on modern technology for harming the environment?
Maybe it’s because I’m an optimist, but on balance I see more examples of modern technology benefiting the environment than harming it. Yes, our gadgets require charging, increasing our electricity consumption, and device proliferation results in e-waste, too much of which is not recycled. But, on the other hand, as SMS and email have replaced paper-based communications, deforestation has decreased. Advances in energy efficiency have helped to keep our electricity consumption in check. Looking forward, I am really excited about the impact that driverless cars and car pooling will have on the environment!
OLIO enables neighbours to connect with each other and with local shops and cafes to share their surplus food. This means less food ends up in landfill, and reduced consumption of the scarce resources (land, labour, water and fossil fuels) that were used to grow, harvest and distribute that food in the first place. OLIO is only one of many sharing economy platforms enabling a secondary market for unwanted or unused items, which by definition helps to reduce waste in society.
I find the best solutions are usually simple ones and OLIO is the perfect example. It’s elegant, it uses technology most people have, and it can make a huge difference. So why hasn’t this been done before?
As they say, having a good idea is the easy part – the hard part is the execution! Tessa and I, along with our dedicated team and hundreds of grassroots volunteers, have poured our heart and soul into bringing OLIO to life… It’s only just the beginning, so there’s still a lot of work left to do!
That said, the reality is that the timing perhaps wasn’t right until now. Smartphone ownership is at an all-time high, and platforms such as Airbnb and Uber have only recently normalised peer-to-peer asset sharing. Apps like Tinder have also helped – if you’d use an app to meet a stranger for a date, why not to share some surplus food?
Recently there has been an increase in public and political awareness about the unsustainable scale of food waste. Over a third of all food grown is never eaten, and in the UK half of all food waste takes place in the home. By providing a very simple alternative to the bin, OLIO makes it easy for people to avoid throwing away edible food. Not only does it feel amazing to prevent good food from going to waste (it’s in our DNA!), it’s really fun to meet new people in your neighbourhood and make local connections that many people – especially those in large cities – are craving.
The app is doing well with so many downloads, awards, and Apple’s recognition as “best new app” but what’s next for OLIO? What are your plans moving forward?
We are unbelievably delighted with how well OLIO is doing – rather overwhelmed to be honest! So far, more than 30,000 people have downloaded the app, and over 4,000 items of food have been shared! We’ve had people from multiple countries reach out to us, and we are currently developing our plan for taking OLIO overseas in a cost-effective and scalable way. Meanwhile, we will continue to roll-out in key cities in the UK and to grow our volunteer base (if you’d like to help, email us at volunteer@OLIOex.com). Ultimately, once we’ve reached true scale, we believe there’s no reason for any household in the world not to be sharing their food on OLIO!
Main image © Annabel Staff