As I previously wrote, food waste continues to be a huge challenge. Globally, we waste about 1.4 billion tons of food annually, contributing to 11 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to this 2021 Guide. The United States discards more food than any other country in the world – nearly 40 million tons every year.
Once the domain of counterculture, new apps and business models are now helping to fight food waste and scaling up, aiming to keep food from landfills and turn a profit at the same time.
Too Good To Go, and similar apps such as those from Imperfect Foods and Hungry Harvest, help retail food outlets sell their excess food to locals. With Too Good To Go, businesses put their leftover foods in ‘mystery bags’ you can reserve through the app for $4 to $6. Then you stop by the shop during the scheduled pick-up window. More than 38 million people around the world have downloaded the app so far. Too Good To Go partners with local hunger-relief organizations to make sure the food sold on the app would not have otherwise been donated to food banks.
While not a panacea and widespread adoption may be a challenge due to perceptions that second-hand food is unsanitary, there is evidence that food waste-fighting apps are alleviating the situation. A study last year looked at the app OLIO, a platform for people looking to give away food and other household items to their neighbors. After analyzing 170,000 posts on OLIO over the course of about a year and a half, researchers found that almost $1 million worth of food was diverted from garbage cans, the emissions equivalent of between 87 and 156 metric tons of carbon dioxide.
Since its start up last fall, Too Good To Go has expanded from the East Coast to West Coast cities, including San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland. More than 700,000 Americans have downloaded the app so far. The company estimates it saves close to 200,000 meals every day and each meal/surprise bag sold averts 2.2 pounds of food from the dumpster.