Creative Storytelling Feature - 2.058 words
Can technology reduce my food waste?
In many aspects, technology is already changing the way we can improve our everyday life. We use apps to transfer money, so we avoid the awkward moment of splitting the bill at the restaurant. We use apps to get information about if our bus once again is delayed. And we use apps to find love. So why not use apps to reduce our waste of food?
If we have a look at the figures on wasted food it’s sky-high. Literally. Roughly one-third of the food produced globally for human consumption every year either gets wasted or lost. That’s 1.3 billion tonnes. 1.300.000.000. With 1.3 billion tonnes of food, we could build a mountain from Buckingham Palace to Regent’s Park with a height of almost 8.000 feet. And even though it might sound like a new London attraction, it’s not something we should be proud of.
Therefore, I’ve challenged myself to do an experiment to get the feel of how big of a problem food waste is in my own life. In my own kitchen. And to see if apps really can help me reduce my food waste.
It’s easy for many people to dismiss food waste as someone else’s problem or to focus exclusively on the more visibly shocking examples of waste like supermarket waste. I’m tempted to do it myself and would at the end of the day consider myself as a person who doesn’t waste food. At least not that much. Or do I? The answer is that I actually don’t know. But I want to. Therefore, I need to take notes and find out how much food I actually waste in a week.
Statistics from the Waste and Resources Action Programme show household food waste in the UK has increased 4.4% between 2012 and 2015, despite a target to cut household waste 5% by 2015. This means that the UK Government has failed to meet its target on household food waste. But it also means that the Brits still are thrown away too much food in their own bins.
While I’m asleep, my bin is having a party
After a week of taking notes of every wasted bit of food, I’m surprised about the result: 1 grapefruit. 1 spoon of mayonnaise. Some mint leaves. A package of sliced chicken. ½ lemon. 1 avocado. 2 eggs. Several cups of milk. ½ bag of mixed salad. Some fries. 1 bagel. 1/3 burger. 1 small yogurt. ½ portion of spaghetti Bolognese. And 1/3 cucumber.
This is too much. Still, I’ve not at all noticed the overall amount during the week. In brief: I buy too much food and I don’t finish my plates. This calls for action and maybe modern-day technology can be part of the solution?
Through the past years, a significant number of companies, individuals, restaurants, and experts have addressed the issue of food waste and several kinds of solutions have been presented. However, changing the mindset of the public and to make food waste a taboo in our society, is still a challenge. It can be difficult to imagine such a change in society. But the public has changed the mindset of lots of things in the past. Think about how it used to be to throw trash on the street. It used to be normal. Now we don’t do it.
“Food that would have been wasted - not actually wasted food”
One of the suggestions on how to reduce food waste with technology is the free app ‘Too Good To Go’ – TGTG – that fights food waste by giving stores and restaurants a platform to sell their surplus food. In less than two years they’ve partnered with over 5.000 stores and restaurants to fight food waste and three million people have downloaded the app.
I went to have a talk with TGTG about how they’ve used modern technology and the usage of smartphones to reduce food waste: “Right now, we get about 3.500 meals saved every week in the UK and are growing, so hopefully by the end of the year we will as a company have saved 8 million meals”, says Anoushka Grover, the Marketing Coordinator at TGTG.
Even though the app quickly became a success both nationally in Denmark – where it was invented – but also globally in countries such as Britain, Germany, and France, it hasn’t come easily from the beginning: “In the past, there might have been a problem with people thinking they bought real leftovers from other people’s plates, but we have really worked hard trying to explain to people, that the food they pick up is just food that would have been wasted - not actually wasted food”, Anoushka continues.
As part of my experiment of reducing food waste, I tried the TGTG-app myself. I downloaded the app, found a café near me called Translate and bought a so-called ‘magic bag’ for three pounds. The pick-up time was a couple of hours later than the time I bought the meal, so now it was just to wait.
Dare to share
Another free app that fights food waste via technology is OLIO – an app that connects neighbours with each other and with local businesses so surplus food can be shared, instead of being thrown away. The app, that was launched in January 2016, now has 322.000 registered users, mainly in the UK, and more than 400.000 items of food have been shared.
As I discovered at the beginning of my food waste experiment, a large part of the food I waste is food that I either forget in the fridge or food that I’m not able to eat in time before the expiry date. Therefore, maybe OLIO could be the perfect app to help me reduce my wasted food?
The worldwide problem with food waste has lots of accomplices. Supermarkets and restaurants obviously play a huge part in both the problem and the solution. To win the war on waste we must hold them accountable for the waste they cause. But, we must also empower individuals to reduce household food waste.
Because the truth is, that none of us solely can point an accusing finger at the restaurants and supermarkets. More than half of the food waste in our ‘developed world’ occurs at home, which means that consumers like myself can be an important part of the reduce. The average family in the UK throws away 22% of their weekly shop, which is worth £700 of food each year. At the same time, over 8 million people in Britain - or the equivalent of the entire population of London - struggle to put enough food on the table, according to the Food Foundation.
Where is my 'magic bag'?
On my way to Translate café for my ‘magic bag’, I’ve high expectations. After the meeting with TGTG, I honestly think the app could help me reduce my waste of food. But when I arrive at the café the waiter gives me the most unexpected message: “We don’t cooperate with the app anymore, so I don’t have anything to give you”. I show the waiter the receipt in the TGTG-app but to no avail. There’s no ‘magic bag’ for me. Obviously, I’m disappointed. But before I completely turn my back on TGTG and put my faith to other apps that want to reduce food waste, I’m willing to give the app another chance.
This time I stake on a Middle Eastern restaurant just around the corner from where I live. Many of the restaurants that join TGTG have late hour pick-up times and the Middle Eastern restaurant is no exception. So, when the clock turns nine pm I’m on my way to pick up a new ‘magic bag’.
With a bit of excitement, I ask the waitress to hand me a ‘magic bag’ from the TGTG-app. But once again it’s an odd experience. The waitress doesn’t really seem to know about the app, the concept or any ‘magic bags’. She ends up asking me what kind of food I want and five minutes later I leave the restaurant with a box of soup, a piece of bread and once again a weird feeling of being fooled. Yes, the food was delicious. But the concept falls flat, when you end up choosing your own food – and not the food that possible would’ve been wasted.
The idea is great, but…
It’s time for me to give the OLIO-app a chance. I sign up and after just a couple of minutes clicking around the app, I must say it’s very user-friendly. You can easily select whether you search for surplus food or want to give away any food of your own. At first sight, I’m optimistic about the possibilities the app gives me. But after a couple of days updating for new food in my area, I’m disappointed. The past four days the overall surplus food have been: some rice, a half loaf of white Warburtons, cat treats, 3 jars of different ground spices and some sugar. And this is up to a distance of two kilometres from my home.
I’m sure OLIO is a great opportunity to give away a bigger amount of food if you know you are going on a holiday or for some reason have lots of leftovers. But as an everyday way to reduce my food waste, the opportunities sadly seem quite limited.
I’m independent – so should my apps be
After my varying experience with TGTG and OLIO, I’m not that certain anymore if apps are the solution to the huge food waste problem in Britain and the rest of the world. But these two apps are luckily just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to apps that try to reduce food waste. This time I’m searching for something quite different in my quest for technological solutions to reduce my food waste. Something that doesn’t rely on others in the same way that TGTG and OLIO do. This time I’m going to make lists to reduce my food waste. Lots of lists.
With the app NoWaste, I can make lists of the food in my freezer, fridge, and pantry, which should make it easier for me to check what food I’ve left and see what food I need to use first. Furthermore, the settings of the app allow me to plan my meals and create a shopping list – so I hopefully will avoid unnecessary purchases and reduce the food I throw out. And it works. Suddenly, I can have the full overview of my food - wherever I am. With the NoWaste-app I can actually do an effort myself to reduce my food waste.
Can technology solve the food waste problem?
After my experiment of reducing food waste with modern-day technology, there are several things to say about the different kinds of apps. Maybe it has been an unfortunate coincidence, but my overall experience with TGTG and OLIO is sadly not something to write home about. Even though the idea behind the two apps are both innovative and creative, it turns out that it’s not that easy to be a zero-waste-food-hero after all.
On the other hand, the NoWaste-app turned out to be just the right solution for a person like me, with a busy everyday life, a terrible memory, and a weakness for lists. So perhaps some apps could give people a push in the right direction when it comes to reducing food waste after all? If we just find the match that fits our individual personality?
Because, even though we’re used to using apps as something that helps us to be more effective, it still takes time and requires a certain commitment to reduce food waste via apps. While technology could prove key to addressing the problem with food waste, ultimate success will come down to how much we are willing to change the way we live – and how much we care. The crucial fact is, that if people basically don’t care about how much food they waste, the technical solutions will not be the solutions that change the attitude to food waste. To solve the problem of food waste we need to change the mindset of the public and make food waste a taboo in our society. And it will probably require more than just ‘a push of a button’.
Can technology reduce my food waste?
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