Food waste is one of the biggest challenges facing our global food system. According to the collaborative coalition ReFED, approximately 62.5 million tons of food are wasted every year in the United States alone.
That’s a shocking figure for a country where more than one in 10 households experienced food insecurity in 2017. Equally staggering is the fact that growing, processing, transporting, and disposing of all this uneaten food costs the US $218 billion per year (1.3 percent of the country’s GDP).
Many food system experts believe that addressing the problem of food waste could have a game-changing impact on many other issues, including the depletion and degradation of natural resources, food insecurity, and climate change. And while it’s clear that big, systemic changes are needed if food waste is to become a thing of the past, smaller-scale efforts are also an important part of the solution.
This is where the following five apps come in. By leveraging the power of today’s technology to connect farmers with consumers, retailers with charitable organizations, and growers with go-betweens, these simple apps are helping people all over the world address the issue of food waste.
The inspiration for Flashfood was an all-too-common occurrence in the food service industry: a catered event that ended with thousands of dollars of leftover food being thrown away. To help divert perfectly good meals from the landfill, Flashfood uses a two-pronged approach.
First, it allows customers to buy grocery items that are nearing their best-before date at a substantial discount. Second, it ships items that were considered not good enough for retail directly to environmentally-conscious customers (the app calls this direct-to-consumer model the “Flashfoodbox”). Flashfood is currently available for use in a number of cities across Canada.
A US-based app, Food Cowboy fills a critical communication gap between potential food donors and food-based charities. Often, businesses like food transporters and caterers have large volumes of edible but rejected or leftover food. However, these entities have no way to know where that food could be of greatest use.
With Food Cowboy, these businesses can create alerts in the app that let nearby food pantries, food banks, and other food processors know that food is available. When they receive an alert, the interested charity can contact the donor directly to make delivery arrangements. As the online magazine Modern Farmer describes it, Food Cowboy is the online dating of food waste.
Food for All
Currently available for use in Boston and New York City (and with plans for expansion in the works), Food for All targets the specific problem of last-minute food waste at restaurants. One hour before closing time, participating restaurants can send out alerts to app users offering huge discounts (up to 80 percent) on delicious food that would otherwise go to waste.
Food for All users can enter their location to explore the deals nearest them. They can choose to order food for themselves or to donate their meal to someone in need or to a local charity.
It can be difficult to reduce your food waste if you don’t know where it’s coming from. That’s the premise behind Winnow, an app that uses smart metering technology to help commercial kitchens track, and make efforts to reduce, the main sources of their food waste.
The Winnow smart meter attaches to a food waste bin. As staff throw items away, they log the source, the type, and the product being disposed of. The Winnow system automatically weighs it. Kitchens can then review this data, find out the source of most of their food waste, and make the necessary changes.
For example, if a certain dish on the restaurant’s menu almost always results in leftovers, the restaurant may decide to reduce portion size. Since Winnow was launched in 2013, the system has resulted in total customer savings of $25 million, has diverted more than 18 million meals from the landfill, and has saved more than 35,000 tons of carbon dioxide. Winnow is currently used in 39 countries around the world.
Let’s face it: from time to time, we’ve all thrown out a spoiled carton of milk or a lemon that’s gone bad because we forgot about it. And while this might not seem like a big deal on a case-by-case basis, over the long term it adds up to a significant amount of food waste.
Foodfully wants to help you make the most of your food so that you never have to throw out forgotten items again. With links to the loyalty programs of more than 14 grocery stores in the US, Foodfully automatically tracks your food purchases every time you go grocery shopping.
The app then arranges your purchased items by their best-before date, and sends you reminders when food is in danger of spoiling. If you’re having trouble thinking of how to use up different ingredients, Foodfully can also suggest tasty recipes based on what you have available.