Americans threw away 133 billion pounds of food in 2010. Restaurants, grocery chains, and farm stands are the biggest offenders. The USDA estimates that 30 to 40 percent of the food supply in our country — worth about $161 billion — is lost to waste. This is food that could feed our homeless and impoverished population and solve America’s own hunger crisis.
For a long time, businesses that dealt with food simply accepted the fact that they would have to throw a lot of it away because of rot or expiration. But now there are groups that aren’t afraid to take on the daunting task of feeding the hungry while combating the United States' food waste problem.
Olio: Using an App to Reduce Food Waste
One of those groups, Olio, is taking a new-age approach to tackling the food waste problem. The company connects people who have food to give away with people looking for that free food.
Founded in 2015, Olio is an app available on iPhone and Android that allows you to take and post pictures of your unwanted food. It then uses your location to match you with people who may want to take that food off your hands.
You can meet with the person or use an Olio drop box available in select cities to give him or her the food you have. It’s that simple.
Olio is a great concept, but it needs more recognition in smaller areas of the country. In the Greater Cincinnati area (where I’m located), there weren’t any listings at all; the closest one was over 170 miles away; and there were only 10 users within a three-mile radius of me.
I’ve seen YouTube videos and read stories of people having much more success with this app in larger metro areas like New York City and London, but Olio needs to leverage social media influencers to spread knowledge of the product in less urban areas.
Once the app manages to penetrate those markets, its prominence will likely skyrocket. It's already on its way to making a dent in the food waste problem. And as the app gains traction in the marketplace, Olio's impact will be realized even more.
How Restaurants Combat the Food Waste Problem
There are also many restaurants trying to make an impact in the world of food waste. A lot of restaurants are already partnering with organizations to give away their unsold food and ingredients.
Others are taking things to the next level by using waste food to create fine-dining experiences that would impress even the pickiest of food critics. For example, Graffiti Earth is a restaurant in Manhattan that heavily uses “ugly” produce — vegetables and fruits with cosmetic blemishes — that would otherwise go to waste.
The restaurant transforms these vegetables and fruits into astonishingly beautiful dishes with unique Indian and Persian twists by head chef Jehangir Mehta.
Graffiti Earth also prides itself on using sustainable proteins and underused fish that put less stress on the environment. All of this is packed into an intimate, farmhouse-inspired space and equates to an unparalleled, guilt-free dining experience. Graffiti Earth is one of a few restaurants around the world that are changing the way we see food waste, one plate at a time.
Rescuing Leftover Cuisine
Another organization based out of New York that is trying to make a dent in the food waste problem, Rescuing Leftover Cuisine (RLC) is a non-profit that works toward eliminating hunger by connecting homeless shelters with food waste from restaurants and grocery stores in their immediate areas.
Currently operating in 18 areas across the U.S., RLC is one of the country's largest combatants of food waste. The founder, Robert Lee, knew what it was like to experience hunger as the child of two Korean immigrant parents. This led him to eventually start RLC and combat two problems at once: food insecurity and food waste.
RLC has received backing from big-name partners like Google, JP Morgan Chase, and KIND Causes. And the organization isn’t just doing footwork to make this operation so successful. It uses a web application that allows restaurants and grocery stores to directly notify their partner shelters when they have food available. This makes it easier for volunteers to deliver the food to the shelters.
RLC's system has allowed the company to expand and replicate its model nationwide. It's leading the way for a long line of organizations aiming to eliminate food waste in our country once and for all.
How to Reduce Food Waste: The Bottom Line
These are just a few among thousands of organizations around the world tackling the food waste problem. But doing your part to reduce food waste can’t be overlooked.
Things like repurposing fruits and vegetables that you would normally throw away — or simply shopping more often to eliminate the likelihood that something will go bad in your fridge or pantry — are great ways to eliminate food waste on an individual level.
Also, don’t be afraid to donate unopened food that you don’t anticipate using yourself to local food pantries or other organizations that take food donations. Together, we can reduce the amount of edible food that goes into landfills every day, and maybe even feed the hungry while we’re at it.