Olio, the food sharing app

I absolutely loathe wasting food. I’d rather shoehorn an extra slab of toast into my mouth, or someone else’s mouth, than see it go in the bin. The idea of discarding anything edible is like a stab to the heart. I’ll often eat pieces of my kids’ discarded fish fingers that have dropped onto the floor. If they don’t eat their pasta one day, I’ll re-serve it for a couple of days afterwards, with different toppings. I can make a pretty eclectic omelette / muffin / pancake with curious additions. I need to talk to you about OLIO the food sharing app, which is here to save our unwanted food from waste – one cupcake and tomato at a time. In the UK we bin SO much food, it’s totally insane.

Here are some sobering stats that might make you re-think tossing that extra spag bol into the food composter. According to The Waste and Resources Action Plan (WRAP) we waste 10 MILLION TONNES of perfectly good food in the UK every year (between households, retail, food manufacture and wholesale). That equates to a cost of £17 billion a year and is associated with 20 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. WRAP estimates that 60% of this food could have been eaten. So even if you think that it’s ok to compost the food that you’re not eating, it still creates a huge waste of energy in its production and then causes global warming as it breaks down and releases gases.

OLIO is an app that I was at first a bit sceptical about using. It basically encourages you to put photos of your unwanted produce onto its listings app, a bit like eBay without the auction, and give it up to the general public who can contact you to collect. Surely this would be weird and awkward? But after my first giveaway, I am hooked. I really try waste as little food as possible, but there are inevitably going to be moments where I find myself with something that I’m not going to get round to eating. You can give away anything from unwanted packets of spices and pulses, cans of drink to freshly cooked stew or yoghurt that’s close to its use-by date. If you’re about to go on holiday, you can clear your fridge of any perishable items happy in the knowledge that your food isn’t rotting in the lettuce crisper. Cafes and supermarkets have also partnered with OLIO – Pret a Manger, for example, gives away some of its excess food at the end of each day via the app. You can also give away non-food items – from toiletries to clothes and furniture. No money changes hands – you are encouraged to help spread the good feeling of just giving. (If you want to make some dough from your non-edibles, just use other apps).

Here’s a film of how it works:

I have had some interesting encounters with complete strangers who came to my doorstep to collect – always friendly and sometimes with poignant outcomes. It’s amazing how motivated people are to pick up food. One woman travelled all the way from central London all the way dahn Sarf just to pick up a bunch of bananas. I just hope she was coming this way anyway – otherwise what a crazy trip! Another lady collected a pot of unopened vitamins within 2 minutes of me posting it on the app – she was going to give them to her grandmother in Latvia who couldn’t afford to buy them herself. I felt pleased, as I truly didn’t know what I was going to do with 200 tablets of Gingko Biloba! A nurse cycled over to pick up teabags to put in the kitchen on her neurosurgical hospital ward, and I felt really chuffed to know that my excess tea was going to a good cause. “You have made lots of nurses very happy,” she wrote afterwards. But most moving of all was a lady who wrote me a very polite message to ask if she could collect a bag of vegetables I was giving away. “I have just seen your ad and would very much appreciate the veggies you are kindly offering if possible please, things are rather tough for us at the moment so anything would be a big help and we would be very grateful.” She arrived at my doorstep, shivering in the cold, after having travelled 1-and-a-half hours on the train. I was extremely happy to have been able to help her out. We had a little chat, and then she disappeared to take the one-and-a-half hour trip home.

Her visit was a poignant reminder that so many people are struggling every day to feed themselves and their families. Food banks do their best, but when people are waiting in that long gap for their Universal Credit to kick in, they have to do all kinds of form filling to get the food bank vouchers. Apps like OLIO are enabling people to pick up unwanted food to help them out of a tight spot. I’m not saying that OLIO can solve food poverty in one fell swoop, but it’s certainly helping in the greater scheme of things, along with other social enterprises.

I’m now excited about my next giveaway – a set of flavoured vinegars that I just don’t have a clue what to do with. The person coming to collect them is going to swap them for a couple of loaves of bread, which she is collecting from a cafe that redistributes its excess bread via the app. I’d love more people in my neighbourhood to get involved with OLIO – come on Crystal Palace! OLIO is now worldwide, so wherever you are, you can use it.

Find out more about OLIO and let someone else eat your unloved pots of yoghurts and lettuce. You might even meet neighbours and make new friends. Join the #FoodSharingRevolution!


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