Restaurants’ Food Waste Can Be Reduced with the Tap of an App
Over the past decade, awareness regarding food waste has grown tremendously. The Washington Post reported in 2019 that restaurants created over 11 million tons of food waste, with the US Department of Agriculture calculating that the restaurant industry’s food waste-related costs reach around $162 billion annually. The pandemic’s crippling impact on restaurants has aimed a spotlight on food waste as many restaurateurs struggle to stay afloat. However, one potential solution exists in something every restaurant owner undoubtedly has: a smartphone.
There is a growing niche of apps that help restaurants address food waste issues and turn them into opportunities. GoMkt, YourLocal, Food for All, and Too Good To Go are restaurant-to-consumer based apps that offer variations on a similar concept. Instead of throwing out unused food, restaurants can sell their excess food to the public at a lower-than-normal price – sometimes up to 80 percent off. With consumers saving money on a meal, and restaurants recouping some money on food that would otherwise be thrown out, and everyone comes out a winner.
On GoMkt and YourLocal, restaurants, as well as other participating retailers, post their unsold items to the online platform. Users pick out something they like, pay through the app, and then pick up their purchases. Food For All operates slightly differently with customers typically able to find meal deals from restaurants one hour before they close.
Too Good To Go has its own unique twist – the “Surprise Bag.” Rather than consumers picking their food items, participating restaurants put together “Too Good To Go” bags, allowing the restaurants to assess their surplus each day.
These apps have had a positive effect. Matt Taylor, the COO of Boston’s Boloco restaurants, revealed to WBUR-FM that they cut half of their food waste using Food For All, while NYC café owner Nicolas Dutko told eater.com that with regards to Too Good To Go, “It’s a win-win for customers and restaurateurs.”
While these apps are currently only available in New York City (Food For All also is in Boston), it is expected that their popularity will either create demand in other areas around the country, or that similar apps will pop up.
It’s important to note that both Too Good To Go and Food For All also provide options for customers to donate food to those in need. Additionally, there are apps that specialize in getting surplus food to charitable organizations. These apps and websites, whose food donors often include other businesses (like caterers, grocery stores, and food distributors), tend to operate in multiple cities.
Some of the charity-focused anti-food waste firms focus more on logistic technology. Goodr describes itself as a “sustainable food waste management company.” Through its mobile technology, Goodr takes on the transportation management of getting excess food from businesses and delivered to nonprofits. This Atlanta-based company has expanded into Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Charlotte, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and Philadelphia.
For its app and website, Copia developed software that instantly pairs businesses wanting to donate excess food to local shelters, after-school programs, and other non-profits, and has drivers that make the deliveries. This tech-enabled food recovery company is based in San Francisco but operates across the entire U.S.
There’s another type of food donation app that functions as a go-between for volunteers and organizations. The Pittsburgh-born 412 Food Rescue helps to match donated food with the appropriate nonprofits, and its app also coordinates the network of volunteer “heroes” in transporting the “rescued” food to its destinations. Their end-to-end system has proven successful enough that hunger relief groups in Cleveland, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Northern Virginia, and Los Angeles now utilize it.
The similarly named Food Rescue US, presently set up in nearly 20 states, follows the similar mission of getting excess food delivered to people in need of food. Powered by its award-winning app, the organization has its volunteers retrieve the food donations and deliver them to the participating receiving agency that provides food to those who face food insecurity – and the whole process is typically completed in about 30 minutes.
These charity-driven apps generally provide tax deductions for those donating food, giving a fiscal incentive for participating just as the business-to-consumer apps do. Copia states that a company can recoup a $14 return for every dollar it invests in food waste reduction.
Having better solutions for surplus food not only has an economic impact but an ecological one as well. Food waste creates numerous important environmental consequences, from wasting resources, like water, energy, oil, land, and labor to generating pollution-creating emissions from transporting the ultimately thrown-out food.
Most discarded food winds up in landfills, where it constitutes the single largest refuse, according to the EPA. When food waste, as well as yard waste, decomposes in landfills, they release methane gas which adds to the greenhouse effect that is behind carbon waste. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization states that if food waste were a country, it would rank as the third-largest contributor of greenhouse emissions behind the US and China.
About 40 percent of the food the U.S. produces winds up going to waste; however, decreasing that number by just 15 percent would feed 25 million Americans. In fact, Feed America estimates that a 30 percent cut in food waste would basically be enough to feed the 50 million people who are going hungry this year across our country.
Whether utilizing apps that lower their amount of surplus food by offering discounted meals to consumers or by donating it to hunger relief organizations, restaurants can do some good for themselves and our country with just a few quick taps on their phone.