Food waste is a huge environmental issue and one that often doesn’t get as much attention as it perhaps deserves.
We often look to shift the blame to producers and supermarkets but actually, we may be more to blame than you think. Here in the UK for example households are responsible for well over half of all food waste in the country, with the average family throwing away a quarter of the weekly shop, this is approximately £800 of food per year, and collectively adds up to £15 billion. £15 billion of food in
And it isn’t just the emissions of the food in the landfill but the pointless environmental costs to get it there. You often have the biodiversity loss caused by the production of the food in the first place, then the transportation costs to get it from all corners of the earth, then the refrigeration costs and packaging, all to end up in the bin…..
Well if everyone in the UK is doing it we clearly need some disruption to change this and this episode’s interviewee has an app that is already starting to tackle this issue on a global scale.
In this episode, I speak with Tessa Cook who co-founded the company Olio back in 2015.
Olio is an app that aims to tackle the problem of food waste
Connecting neighbours with each other and with local businesses so surplus food can be shared, not thrown away. This could be food nearing its sell-by date in local stores, spare home-grown vegetables, bread from your baker, or the groceries in your fridge when you go away.
The app is already taking off in a big way and is very exciting. In the
If you want to find out more about Olio head to https://olioex.com/about/
Or find them on twitter @olio_ex
How big of a problem is food waste?
2:34 – Rob
How big of a problem from an environmental point of view is this issue of food
2:50 – Tessa
So I think food waste is one of the biggest environmental problems of our time. And that is very, very little is known about it. So I think a lot of people increasingly know that globally, a third of all the food we produce gets thrown away, which is worth a trillion US dollars. And if food waste were to be a country, it would be the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after the US and China. But what most people don’t realize is that in countries such as the UK, US, in Western Europe, etc, well, over half of all food waste takes place in the home. And that’s in contrast to less than 5% of all food waste which takes place at a retail store level. So that’s a really common misconception.
And I think it’s also worth touching on I’m sure your listeners will be familiar with this. But with Project drawdown, which was a collaborative piece of work that came out in 2017 now, where I think it’s probably 80 of the world’s leading climate change scientists said enough of the doom and gloom about climate change, let’s backgrounds the top 100 solutions to the problem of climate change. And in position number three was reducing food waste. And we like to point out that that comes above electric cars, and above solar power. So they are topics that are receiving an enormous amount of investment and media coverage. But actually, food waste is far more transformative in terms of its potential to solve the problem of climate change.
In terms of how the idea of Olio came about, it really came about from
How does Olio work? How did you get it from idea to product?
5:44 – Rob
Could you just give us a little bit of an idea of how it
Yeah. So how it works is that if you have some food that you don’t want or need so you could be going on a holiday moving home, perhaps you are about to go on a diet, maybe you’re a keen gardener, over-catered for a party. Whatever the reason, you just snap a photo of your food and add it to the app.
So today, we’ve got 850,000 people have joined the Olio community, and they’ve shared well over 1.2 million portions of food, which is the environmental equivalent of taking about 3 million car miles off the road. So really, really exciting, although sort of would barely
In terms of how we got
So Sasha, my
So we were we used to deliberately, extremely, which because we wanted to weed out people saying, Yeah, food waste is bad. So we were kind of thrilled, I guess, to see that data point, we’re like, wow, this means that this actually is a mainstream problem. It’s not just us who suffer from this is a widespread problem. But that doesn’t mean to say that people will take the next step of our hypothesis, which is that they would go to the effort to share their food with a
And so Sasha and I wanted to test whether people would actually share food with a
So what we did was we invited 12 people who said that they were
For a period of two weeks, we put on a closed
They essentially gave us three really important
So these are kind of volunteers, we have 27,000 of them now that their volunteers were kind of helping spread the word about earlier in their local community. So that was sort of, I guess it started, you know, in that way, we then launched a pilot version of the app in five postcodes in North London. And we were just in pilot mode for about six months
Did you have an idea of how Olio would make money?
11:14 – Rob
I was just wondering if you had a strategy from the start of how you potentially make profit or money from the app? Or was it more of a case of you just wanted to get something out there because you are so frustrated with the problem that you just wanted to get a solution? And then you sort of think about the monetary aspect later on? Did you always have an idea of how it might work from that point of view?
11:34 – Tessa
Yeah, that’s a great question. So once we discovered the enormity of the problem of food waste, and I mean, it was just, it was a terrifying experience, realizing that this was the true state of the world, we became immediately committed to solving that problem. And we knew that it had to be solved at scale. And so if we wanted to solve it at scale, literally, you know, we need billions of people using earlier, then click really, we’re going to have to have a sustainable business
Having said that, we had lots of different ideas in terms of how we could generate revenues from earlier but we didn’t want to start off making money immediately, because we had so much to learn in terms of what the product was like, what the user experiences like. And it makes no sense to start generating revenues from 100 people, 1000 people, or even 10,000 people.
So actually, we didn’t generate any revenues at all for the first two years. And it was only a year ago that we first started generating revenues. And we, and that was in a way that we had never actually originally conceived, which was quite interesting. And some of the earlier ways that we had assumed would make money have since proven just not be fruitful at all.
But the way in which we started generating revenues is through charging with businesses, the service that we provide to enable their stores to preserve food waste. So we have volunteers who are called food waste heroes, and they collect food from the local store, take it home, add it to the app and redistribute it to the local community.
13:14 – Rob
Did you start thinking it was it’ll be sort of peer to peer person to
13:21 – Tessa
in terms of the monetization piece, when we first launched earlier, we allowed people to sell their food on earlier, if they wanted to, it had to be at least 50%
Is there still a psychological barrier to overcome with sharing food?
14:17 – Rob
Yeah, I really like that. I think creating that sort of level playing field makes it really simple and easy to get into and access rather than try to create a market which could get quite complicated. You mentioned that in your survey, that there’s not really a problem with people wanting to share, it is more the people knowing that there’s a market out there, how do you think we get over that barrier? Is it about spreading the message talking to one another? And do you think there is still a psychological barrier to get over for people when it comes to how we view waste, with things such as best before dates, do you think we still have quite a way to go in terms of getting over
15:01 – Tessa
Yeah, so I don’t think there is a single sort of silver bullet answer to the problem of food waste. Sadly, there are lots of things that have to change and take place across all sectors of society. So governments need to really step up and start regulating and setting ambitious targets. Because that venture really sets the pace for businesses and also for the local authorities and for society. And without a doubt, there is work to be done around use by dates and best before dates, which can be very, very confusing to consumers.
But there’s also I think, a far broader point, which is the fact that actually, sadly, nowadays, we don’t really value food that much. And I think for a lot of people, we’ve become sort of
So I think in order to change that, we’ve got to start off with driving awareness of the problem of food waste. Awareness of the scale of it, and get people really emotionally engaged in it, get them understanding how much water or energy or blood sweat and tears went into producing that one banana. That perhaps they don’t feel bad chucking one banana in the bin, but we need to make sure that everyone is aware that another 27 million households are also just chucking one banana in the bin today, and that collectively, these small actions actually do have a massive impact.
So at the moment, the small actions having
16:57 – Rob
We’ve got to obviously get to the point where everyone hopefully understands that it’s not just the environmental costs of throwing it away. But there’s a massive chain of different events that have gone into the production of that one piece of fruit. Yeah, where to go from, through all the stages.
17:12 – Tessa
Exactly. And I think that’s because we do have an enormously long supply chain in food. It starts off hundreds of thousands of miles away from ourselves. That’s species that have been driven into extinction, soil that’s been degraded, indigenous populations displaced all the biodiversity that’s being destroyed, to create something that ultimately is never used for the purpose for which it was intended. And then to make it even worse the food goes through that enormously long supply chain it ends up being thrown away into
Is food too cheap in supermarkets?
18:11 – Rob
I mentioned at the start about how we shouldn’t simply blame supermarkets for our food waste problem, as a large amount of the food is actually wasted within the home. However, do you think that supermarkets do have to take some of the blame for pricing food too cheaply, perhaps, and hence, maybe creating a problem where we don’t value food highly enough, and therefore we know if we’re quite happy to throw it away? I recently spoke to The Common Cause Foundation in a previous episode, who said, we should be careful in using financial incentives to drive better environmental
19:05 – Tessa
Well, so in terms of is food too cheap. If you look at all the data, the proportion of
However, sadly, there’s another indisputable fact, which is that in this country, we have 8.4 million people living in poverty. And half of those people are living in severe food poverty, which means they do not know where their next meal is coming from. And I do like to point out the 8 million people is approximately the size of
So this is just an enormous level of human suffering in a supposedly developed country. And so for me, putting up the price of food is not something that I would advocate, because there is all already an enormous amount of hunger in this country. So sadly, food is sort of too cheap for one group of people. And it’s too expensive for another.
It really is about valuing
Just giving an example that I just come across recently of sort of environmental stats and how they’re presented. I saw a graphic the other day, which said that the amount of water that is used to produce one cotton
I think also, it’s not just about scaring people with all this doom and gloom stuff. The flip side is what we talked about earlier. Do you know what? it is so much more fun to share food with a
Using food sharing to bring back communities
22:18 – Rob
I like the idea of trying to get that sense of local community back again, with the world moving more online, and people often moving between towns and cities more frequently for work. It seems like maybe that sense of local community is starting to fade in many parts of the world. And that leads to us not mixing with different types of people with different views and opinions. And causes the polarization that we’re starting to see in many areas. So anything that can be done to get that back
22:49 – Tessa
We are facing a loneliness epidemic, we are lonelier and more depressed than we have ever been. And so again, connecting with your
What is next for Olio?
23:06 – Rob
What’s next, for Olio from here? I know you’ve got like a global reach now to have you got an idea of how many countries you’ve you’ve got to so far, and what sort of the next steps do you see in the plan from now on?
23:19 – Tessa
Yeah, so as I said, we’re 850,000 people join the audio community, they’ve shared 1.2 million portions of food. And we’ve seen about
24:19 – Rob
24:23 – Tessa
So we have barely even started
Could we see an Olio delivery service in the future?
24:26 – Rob
As Olio grows do you see a delivery service being added? I mean,
24:46 – Tessa
So in the early days, we did think a lot about that. But actually, the more Olio grows, the less need you have for any form of delivery. Because the number of people who signed up near you becomes more and more so where I am in North London, you can add a listing to the app, and I can probably one in 10 times, I will have a
So there’s no need for a delivery service. And actually, our kind of vision for the world is one where instead of going to Amazon and buying everything brand
25:41 – Rob
There is an element of the app isn’t there is not just food, you can actually share other items is that right?
25:48 – Tessa
Yeah, so we have a
25:55 – Rob
Well, I really love the idea. And I hope it continues to spread as it is doing. I’m going to try and use it more. I’ve used it a couple of times myself, I want to use it much more going forward.
One final question now, something a bit different, haven’t tried before. But I want to try and bring in future episodes. If you could come up with a message or inspirational quote that could appear on every billboard across the country for just one day, preferably with an environmental theme, but doesn’t have to be what would it be and why?
26:27 – Tessa
Well, funnily enough, we are, we are hoping to later on this year or next year be taking out exactly that sort of advertising. So I don’t know the answer to that yet. But clearly, it would be something along the lines, something sort of inspirational that would be encouraging people to give it a go and try, you know, radio covers today and try sharing with a