There’s an App for that: Reducing our food waste

Danielle Nierenberg
Greetings from Baltimore!
Today, purpose-driven apps offer a new way to advocate for justice in the food system. Turning some of the industry’s problems into innovative solutions, these organizations and apps are transforming the paradox between two massive food system issues—food waste and global hunger. By rescuing food that otherwise goes to waste, and donating it to charities and nonprofit organizations, these apps empower every business and consumer to play a role in community-wide food justice.

Food Tank - App to reduce FoodWaste
Food Tank – App to reduce FoodWaste

While the world wastes heaps of food, 821 million people across the globe struggle with malnourishment. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, nearly one-third of all food produced goes wasted, but if repurposed, can feed all undernourished people more than twice-over. By rescuing food and connecting communities, these apps are advocating for a new, anti-waste global culture that will change this reality.
Food Tank is highlighting 19 organizations with apps rerouting food from landfills to hungry neighbours: 412 Food Rescue, Chowberry, Community Food Rescue, Feed HV, Feeding America, FoodCloud, Food Cowboy, Food for Us, Food Rescue US, Food Runners, Fresh Food Connect, The gitm Foundation, Goodr, No Food Waste, OLIO, Peninsula Food Runners, Transfernation, Waste No Food, and Waste Not OC Coalition.
Contributing Author Katherine Walla
When we waste food, that’s not all we’re wasting—we waste labour, inputs and natural resources, and the ability to share or donate food that is otherwise perfectly good to eat. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, nearly one-third of all food produced each year is wasted, amounting to about 9 kilograms (20 pounds) of food waste per person per month. And, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Americans alone waste 40 percent of food, which is 10 times as much food as someone in Southeast Asia. Fixing this global wasteful trend would recover enough food to feed all the world’s 821 million undernourished people more than twice-over.
But apps can play a role in helping eaters, businesses, and organizations recover food for food assistance programs. Beyond creating temporary solutions, these apps can help create a permanent culture in which retailers and individuals donate surplus food, volunteers transport food, and nonprofits and families receive delicious and nutritious food that would otherwise end up in landfills. And with many of these organizations, becoming a donor or volunteer is as simple as filling out a form or downloading an app on any mobile device.
Food Tank is excited to highlight 19 organizations with apps that turn food waste into food justice.
1. 412 Food Rescue
412 Food Rescue aims to build a new culture that supports redirecting surplus from food retailers. Located in Pittsburgh and operated through the Food Rescue Hero app, 412 Food Rescue helps every eater and retailer become a “hero” by connecting users with surplus food with nonprofits who serve communities experiencing food insecurity. According to the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work, 412 Food Rescue improved food insecurity for 88 percent of the population they reached in 2018.
2. Chowberry
Chowberry links participating shops to nongovernmental organizations to provide cheaper food for people needing food in local communities. Located in Nigeria, Chowberry allows organizations to purchase foods about to expire at a discounted price: the discounts become larger the longer the products sit on the shelf. The app also alerts these organizations about a rise in discounted or free food in their area.
3. Community Food Rescue
A program of Manna Food Center, Community Food Rescue connects businesses, volunteers, and organizations in Montgomery County, MD to create a food recovery network. Community Food Rescue uses ChowMatch, a web application tool and mobile app, to match businesses donating food with food assistance organizations, even coordinating a volunteer food runner to transport the food.
4. Feed HV
In Hudson Valley, NY—a region with a vibrant farming community—Feed HV redirects food waste not only from businesses, but also from farmers, restaurants, caterers, grocery stores, and more. Using ChowMatch, Feed HV shares the region’s bounty with nonprofits in the area serving communities experiencing hunger. In 2018, Feed HV fully operated in three counties and plans expansion into four more.
5. Feeding America
With already established partnerships with Starbucks and Second Harvest Food Bank to redistribute unsold food, Feeding America added MealConnect, a tech platform that matches food businesses to Feeding America’s national network to facilitate food donations. MealConnect alerts food banks and food pantries for scheduled or immediate pickups from local grocery stores, hotels, and more, facilitating over 2 million pickups for over 5,000 nonprofits.
6. FoodCloud
FoodCloud makes it easier for charities and nonprofit organizations to gain access to affordable, fresh food. On the platform based in Ireland and the UK, a store can upload food they cannot sell on their in-store scanner, and partner charities such as breakfast clubs, homeless shelters, and more can collect the food—and reallocate funding toward other forms of support addressing hunger and poverty. FoodCloud has redistributed over 41 million meals.
7. Food Cowboy
Food Cowboy facilitates food donations from delivery drivers, caterers, and anyone with surplus food to food pantries, charities, and more. With an app, donors can create an alert that instantly notifies potential recipients. Food Cowboy focuses on creating the technology, communication, and infrastructure needed—such as a waste hotline, mentoring, technical assistance, and awareness campaigns—to end food waste.
8. Food for Us
Located in South Africa, Food for Us offers an app that reduces on-farm food surplus or food loss and supports learning about food waste and hunger. Food for Us links sellers with buyers, particularly those in need, to trade on-farm produce while accruing data and supporting South African researchers in the food waste field. Initiated by partners in South Africa, the UN Sustainable Lifestyles and Education Programme, and One Planet Network, the app completed a pilot program in two sites in 2018.
9. Food Rescue US
Food Rescue US coordinates volunteers to transfer surplus food from grocers, restaurants, and other sources to hungry families. The Food Rescue US app allows suppliers to list surplus food, volunteers to choose convenient time slots, and food pantries to post their needs and find food matches. With 17 local sites, the app has saved more than 17 million kilograms (37 million pounds) of fresh, safe food from the landfill.
10. Food Runners
Food Runners picks up surplus food from businesses and delivers it directly to neighbourhood food programs. Relaying over 20,000 meals in San Francisco each week, Food Runners’ more than 250 active volunteers develop a community of generosity. Food Runners makes it easy for not only businesses to donate, but also for individual, home cooks. Founder Mary Risely won the James Beard Foundation’s “Humanitarian of the Year” award in 1999 for her work with Food Runners.
11. Fresh Food Connect
Fresh Food Connect introduces a new model, connecting excess garden produce to food insecure communities. Based in Colorado, Fresh Food Connect’s app coordinates between gardeners with any size harvest and local neighbourhoods, sending out team members on bicycles to distribute.
12. The gitm Foundation
The gitm Foundation leads community-wide organizing for programs that support community health. The foundation’s Good Food Recovery—an “Uber for Food”—uses ChowMatch to recover unsold, surplus food for hunger relief organizations in Illinois. The Good Food Recovery invites both donor organizations and home farmers and growers, including fresh food drives as part of the program.
13. Goodr
Through innovative blockchain technology, Goodr aims to prove that good, profitable business can include community support. The mobile app helps provide businesses with real-time social impact data and analytics, tracking food from pickup to donation. Over the last two years, Goodr helped rescue over 450,000 kilograms (1 million pounds) of food, reduced its client’s carbon emissions by 27 percent, and saved businesses US$3.1 million. Goodr recently partnered with Super Bowl LIII to help work toward an entirely waste-free event.
14. No Food Waste
Based in India, No Food Waste aims to end food waste and hunger by recovering surplus food from weddings, parties, and business functions. Anyone with surplus food can call a reallocation hotline to coordinate pickup, and volunteers and staff evaluate the food and match the donation with hunger spots nearby. No Food Waste picks up 96 percent of the food donated and has fed over 675,000 people in Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Kerala.
15. OLIO
OLIO takes a neighbour-to-neighbour approach to end food waste and hunger in the UK. With an app, OLIO is open to every business, home-gardener, baker, grocer, and more to post surplus food to be shared; and, anyone can access the items and arrange a pick-up. OLIO even facilitates exchanges of non-food household items too such as excess toiletries.
16. Peninsula Food Runners
Peninsula Food Runners joins donors with food surpluses, individuals longing to volunteer for their community and recipient families with low incomes or poor access to nutritious food. Serving San Mateo and Santa Clara counties in California, Peninsula Food Runners uses ChowMatch to pair donations with recipient organizations at the right time to avoid throwing away food at any point during the process.
17. Transfernation
Transfernation creates partnerships between corporations and organizations serving communities in need in New York City. The app takes control of all the logistics required to coordinate food donation, even tracking the status of delivering volunteers and sending homeless shelters and soup kitchens real-time updates about opportunities. Transferations accompanying volunteer app, SocialEffort, makes it easy for volunteers to hop on their phones and start volunteering instantly.
18. Waste No Food
Waste No Food creates an efficient way for groups with excess food to donate to hungry communities in California and Florida. The nonprofit accepts donations from not only businesses, but also universities, airports, and organic farms. The website offers a platform to create a community and locally based solution to securing food.
19. Waste Not OC Coalition
Waste Not OC Coalition works with the food industry, the waste hauling industry, and organizations to safely and cost-effectively donate food to feed the community using an online platform through ChowMatch. Focusing on creating a national model and culture for recovering food, Waste Not OC Coalition offers programs like volunteer trainings, needs assessment resources for pantries, and best practice trainings for donors and food handlers.
(Danielle Nierenberg is President of Food Tank and an expert on sustainable agriculture and food issues. She has written extensively on gender and population, the spread of factory farming in the developing world and innovations in sustainable agriculture.)