Environmental Laboratory

How Can an App Save Food Waste?

Dec 27 2016 Comments 0

An ingenious new app developed by a pair of Irish entrepreneurs is working wonders to tackle the twin problems of food shortages and excess waste. FoodCloud, developed by friends Iseult Ward and Aiobheann O’Brien, allows businesses with surplus food to alert nearby charities of the excess so that they can collect it and distribute among the needy and impoverished.

As simple as the idea sounds, it has already helped businesses in the UK and Ireland to donate 8.4 million meals to the poor, while simultaneously cutting down on the amount of needless waste that the food industry produces.

No excuse for homegrown food shortages

In some parts of the world, the supply of food often struggles to keep up with the demand. With an ever-increasing population and volatile climate conditions, this problem is only set to worsen over the coming years and decades.

With that in mind, scientists across the globe have been investigating methods of safeguarding our agricultural yield, including research into plant mitochondria as a means of making crops more resilient to a changing environment. Scientists are hopeful that by increasing the protein count in plants, they will be better suited to stand up to whatever phenomena are set to occur in the future.

However, in the UK, such a situation is no excuse. While there are still many impoverished and starving people across the nation, it’s not for a lack of food. Indeed, it’s estimated that as much as 1.9 million tonnes of food is wasted in the British supermarket industry every year – such profligacy should not be allowed to continue.

A meeting of minds

That was exactly the sentiments of Ward and O’Brien. The pair met at Trinity College in Dublin while studying for degrees in business management and environmental science, respectively. “Within one community, there can be a business that’s throwing away perfectly good food and just around the corner there’s a charity that’s struggling to feed people in need,” explained Ward. “We wanted to connect the two.”

In 2012, the pair first developed an app which allowed businesses to alert charities of any surplus food that had been earmarked for being thrown away and arrange a time for the charity to pick it up, free of charge. Just as the duo were about to graduate, Tesco got wind of their scheme and unrolled the app across their 140 stores in Ireland.

Now, the service is being expanded across the UK to all of Tesco’s 929 stores. Rachel Finn, the head of the supermarket’s community food project, estimates that the company will need around 5,000 charities to account for all of the food waste they produce on a daily basis. At present, Tesco is working with 3,979 charitable bodies.

Onwards and upwards

Having fully secured the backing of Tesco, Ward and O’Brien are now turning their sights on the rest of the British food industry. They’ve already worked with Aldi in Ireland and hope to bring all other Irish retailers on board before too long, as well as expanding out across the UK.

Meanwhile, a new project named FoodCloud Hubs is aimed at targeting the manufacturing and distribution arms of the food industry, allowing them to access greater quantities of food before it becomes waste.

Therein lies the ingenuity of FoodCloud. Across the world, companies and scientists are looking into the value of waste materials as fuel feedstock – but FoodCloud cuts out that middle man by rescuing food before it becomes waste. Armed with the technology, there’s no reason that the scheme can’t help to end food poverty in every part of the world. 

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