The Anti-Food Waste App Saving Millions of Meals
60 pounds. By weight, that’s how many orange peels, vegetable trimmings, and other food scraps ended up in my compost after three months of use. I thought that number was crazy — then I started researching how much food Americans waste each year.
In the U.S., 30 to 40 percent of our annual food supply is wasted, according to the FDA. And much of it ends up in landfills, where it contributes to climate change by emitting harmful greenhouse gases. Globally, food waste accounts for eight percent of greenhouse gas emissions — more than the aviation industry. It also wastes water. In 2019, $408 billion worth of food was wasted in the U.S., an amount that took four trillion gallons of water to produce.
So, how do you combat a global food waste crisis? Create an app. Meet Too Good To Go, a mobile marketplace that saves surplus food from grocery stores, restaurants, and other local businesses by allowing consumers to purchase it at a third of the price.
Too Good To Go first launched in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2016, and in five short years has expanded to 15 countries, including Madrid, Spain; Paris, France; London, UK; Milan, Italy, and more — with the North America being the latest. Right now, you can find them in New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Chicago, Portland, and Seattle.
“[Food waste] is just such a massive issue that impacts us socially, economically, environmentally,” says Claire Oliverson, head of marketing at Too Good To Go.
“If food waste were a country, it would actually be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gas after the U.S. and China. The founders really started to think about ‘How can we create a solution that provides the ability for sustainability to be accessible?’”
The free app makes it simple for anyone to keep perfectly good food from going in the garbage. Once you’ve downloaded it, you can browse participating restaurants, mom and pop shops, neighborhood bodegas, and grocery stores to see who has surplus food for sale. After you’ve reserved a “surprise bag” — a smorgasbord of leftover items — you can pick it up during the designated time window (usually at the end of the business’s day) and enjoy. To date, Too Good To Go has saved 109 million meals globally, or the carbon emissions equivalent of more than 492 flights around the world.
The whole process is what Too Good To Go calls a “win-win-win” says Oliverson. It’s a win for the environment, a win for businesses who may attract new customers and get compensated for ingredients they would have thrown out, and a win for consumers who get to snag great food for a fraction of the price. By enabling consumers to be directly involved with fighting food waste, it also creates an opportunity for them to reevaluate where their food comes from and make more sustainable lifestyle changes.
“You go to the grocery store and you have a million options,” says Oliverson. “I think it’s really about changing the mentality. Each piece of food that you’re seeing in front of you had an entire life to get here, and those are resources that are precious and valuable.”
Outside of the app, Too Good To Go partners with food insecurity organizations like the Greater Boston Food Bank in every city they’re in to help fight food insecurity. In Europe, the company also works hand-in-hand with schools to educate kids about the social and environmental impacts of food waste — something they plan to do in the U.S. as well. They’re also working to change public policy, for example, pushing to make those “sell by” and “best by” and other date labels clearer for customers to understand when it comes to whether or not the item is still okay to eat.
In the meantime, the humble mobile app is continuing to expand — they most recently set up operations in Providence, Rhode Island, Baltimore, Toronto, and Austin — cutting carbon emissions and saving meals along the way.
Says Oliverson, “We’re just trying to really move toward a world without food waste.”