Food waste: ‘sharing economy’ part of the solution?

By November 21, 2013

A number of startups have set out to tackle the issue of food wastage in the consumer society. Leftoverswap, a startup which launched last month, has based its solution on the growing trend towards social community-building.

Figures collected by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization show that around 1.3 billion tonnes of food are thrown away every year worldwide, which actually amounts to close to a third of all food production.At the same time the world is facing the threat of food shortages. Consequently, any solution which can help to cut down on this seemingly endless waste is very welcome. The total volume of unwanted food is the result of an accumulation of waste along the entire length of the food chain, from production through to the final buyer. New technologies such as those used by Portland, Oregon-based company LeanPath have thus emerged to try to limit waste at the production end, using food waste tracking systems, analyzing data and providing education. In developed countries however, it has been calculated that 30% to 50% of all food waste is simply down to consumer habits. Some startup companies are therefore taking a ‘micro’ point of view, and have come up with solutions that address our day-to-day habits.

Leftoverswap: a food social network to combat waste

The Leftoverswap concept of a ‘food social network’ fits into the current trend towards a ‘sharing economy’. The mobile app for ‘sharing and finding leftover food’, designed by its two Seattle-based founders, enables people to exchange leftover food with other residents living close by. You can post a photo, together with a description of the leftover food and where it can be picked up, and app users in the vicinity can then come and collect it while it is still edible. So following the Airbnb service that enables you to share your apartment, and the car-sharing services provided by Lyft or Getaround, it now seems that we will be able to share the contents of our refrigerators as well. The food-sharing app already has 8,000 users and 1,300 offers have been posted during the first month since launch.

Attacking consumer habits head-on

The ‘freebie’ community appears to have taken to the Leftoverswap concept with enthusiasm, but it is nevertheless proving somewhat controversial. The fact is that no standards of hygiene whatsoever are imposed on food-donors, so the system relies entirely on trust and sharing and not everyone is prepared to take this leap of faith.  Moreover, though the idea is well-intentioned and the system well-designed, it will not really do very much to curb consumer excess in the long term.  It is therefore certainly a good idea to try to attack the problem further upstream as well, perhaps at the shopping stage. With this in mind, Pyxedo and bluejava have teamed up tocreate the 222 million tons app, which is designed to promote zero food waste by helping users to juggle their shopping lists and menus on a weekly basis, taking account of how perishable the food they buy is, its product shelf life, and the user’s (and other household members’) daily habits, likes and dislikes.


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