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Food for thought: When did sharing food become weirder than wasting it?


More than a third of all food produced globally never makes it to the table.

Meanwhile, 800 million people go to bed hungry every night. That’s 1 in 9 people on the planet who are starving or malnourished.

This isn’t a problem that is happening ‘somewhere else’, this is the reality for hundreds of millions of people in first, second and third world countries across the globe. In the UK alone, over 1 million people accessed a food bank last year, whilst in the USA 40 million Americans live in food poverty.

Aside from the colossal moral implications, the environmental impact of food waste is staggering. 

In order to grow food that ultimately ends up in the trash, land is deforested, species are driven to extinction, indigenous populations are moved, and soil is degraded. The vast majority of food waste ends up in landfills, where it decomposes without access to oxygen and creates methane – a gas 23x more deadly than carbon dioxide. According to the World Resources Institute, food that is produced but not eaten guzzles up a huge 45 trillion gallons of water. There’s no denying that food waste is environmentally catastrophic.

Tessa Clarke

Tessa Clarke

This is something that has always bothered Tessa Clarke. Growing up on a farm, she hated throwing away good food, as she saw first-hand just how much hard work goes into producing it. On moving day four years ago, she found herself left with some food she hadn’t managed to eat. 

“I set off on a bit of a wild goose chase to try and find someone to give it to, and to cut a long story short, I failed miserably. Through the whole process it seemed to me crazy that I should have to throw this perfectly good food away when there were surely plenty of people within hundreds of meters of me who would love it, the problem was they just didn’t know about it.”

And so the idea of OLIO, a mobile app where neighbours can share their surplus food, was born.

OLIO connects neighbours with each other and with local businesses so that surplus food can be shared, not thrown away. This includes food nearing its sell by date in local stores, spare home-grown vegetables, or groceries that would otherwise be left to rot in your fridge when you go away. Simply upload a picture of your goods to the app, and set a pickup location. You’ll receive a notification when you have a request, and can check a user’s profile, verifications and star rating before organising to meet up and share your unused products.

“OLIO can be used anywhere in the world, and we’ve had food successfully shared in 49 countries so far. How OLIO gets going in new places is thanks to our 40,000 Brand Ambassadors who are spreading the word about OLIO in their local communities, either online or using our posters, letters and flyers.”


Food businesses or providers can also play their part to help the environment by becoming a zero food waste business with OLIO. OLIO’s Food Waste Heroes are volunteers that can pick up and redistribute your unsold or unserved food at the end of the day. Food that currently ends up in landfills, can go towards helping those in need, and the environment. The Food Waste Heroes programme is currently active in the UK, Jersey, Guernsey, Sweden, Mexico, and the USA.

Four years on since Tessa’s brainwave, OLIO now has 1.3 million users. Over two million portions of food have been shared; food which would have otherwise gone to waste. Over 300 million litres of water has been saved. 

The next step for OLIO? Connecting billions of people across the globe, resulting in a dramatic decrease in food waste.  

“Our vision for the future is an unashamedly bold one – we want over 1 billion people using OLIO within the next 10 years. That’s because society’s current linear, disposable and wasteful model of consumption, is by definition unsustainable. And so we’re working towards a future where billions of neighbours are connected to share our most precious resources rather than throw them away.”

OLIO is a clear example of how small changes can lead to big change. If we all played our part to reduce our food waste, we can make a significant impact and #TurnTheTide against climate change.

OLIO is just one of many companies making a difference. As part of UrbanVolt’s #TurnTheTide campaign, we are sharing stories from around the world about people, businesses and communities who are playing their part in the fight against climate change, in an effort to inspire action.

We want to hear about the changes that you’ve made, and the people and companies that inspire you. No matter how big or small, let us know. We want to highlight each and every little step which is contributing to a giant leap forward. 

Join the conversation by using #TurnTheTide.