Sharing food to reduce food waste

partager aliments réduire gaspillage alimentaire

Every year, nearly 1.3 billion tonnes of food are thrown away – a truly shocking figure if we consider the environmental challenges we face and the food shortages seen in some parts of the world. Collaborative economic initiatives to reduce food waste are flourishing: a win-win practice.

Eliminating food waste is urgent

Global food waste is a mind-boggling issue. According to the FAO, a third of all food produced for human consumption (1.3 billion tonnes) goes to waste each year. This amounts to 41 tonnes of wasted, unconsumed food every second. As consumers, we are responsible for nearly 53% of that waste!

Other figures provide additional food for thought regarding the “waste” issue:

  • Waste of fruit and vegetables is 45%, the most affected type of food, along with roots and tubers (also 45%).
  • The global economic cost of food waste is at least $750 billion, or an equivalent per household of €87 in Belgium, €400 in France, £680 in the United Kingdom and up to $2.275 in the United States!
  • Nearly one billion hungry people could be fed on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe.
  • An area larger than China is used to grow food that is never eaten.
  • If food waste was a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases (after China and the United States).

This cannot go on – especially since nearly 10 billion people will live on the planet by 2050. Demographic conditions will require a 60 to 70% increase in global food production. Theoretically speaking, of course. In practical terms, such a goal is unrealistic without changing our modes of production and consumption. An increasingly sustainable vision is necessary, as professor Wim De Vries (Wageningen University) explained during the Foundation’s annual conference. Good news! We are part of the problem but also part of the solution!

Olio: a powerfully simple food-sharing economy


Olio is a food-sharing platform developed by two British women, Saasha Celestial-One and Tessa Clarke. Its purpose is simple: to connect people and businesses with their local areas in order to share unwanted food and, as a result, reduce food waste. Items to be shared are posted online via a designated interface or app.

What is being shared? Food from stores or supermarkets that is nearing its sell-by date, spare home-grown vegetables, bread from your neighbourhood bakery, or surplus groceries from your refrigerator or local restaurant.

One thing is sure, the app is a resounding success:

  • Over 2 million people have downloaded the app.
  • Nearly 5 million food portions have already been shared.
  • Olio is active in 51 countries!

Olio is not the only initiative of its kind. Others in France, such as Too Good To Go, CheckFood or Mummyz operate in a similar way.

Does it really work? Yes!

Such practices effectively minimise food waste. In addition, they reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as shown in a recent scientific study that examined nearly 170,000 food offers on the OLIO platform. Focused on metropolitan London, the study aimed to evaluate the platform’s concrete impact on the environment and society.

First, the study was able to determine the types of food items shared:

  • The most common listed items were prepared or cooked meals, and fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • The most common collected foods were sandwiches.
  • Bakery goods were wasted the most, whereas the collection rate of fresh fruit and vegetables was relatively high for produce that is perishable and often forgotten!

During the study (19 months), produce and meal-sharing resulted in an average food waste reduction of 90 tonnes. The large number represents 60% of the listed food items, which in monetary value amounts to approximately £700,000.

The environmental impact is worth noting. The reduction of GHG emissions due to avoided food waste and adjusted for transport emissions from collecting the food, was positive in all the examined case scenarios.