Around 7 million tons of food go to waste each year in the UK, but local startups and organizations are dreaming up new and noteworthy ways to tackle the growing problem.
Action Hunger, a charity committed to alleviating poverty and hardship among the homeless, has created a novel solution for simultaneously providing essential items to those in need and diverting food from landfill: vending machines.
The NGO launched the program in Nottingham, installing the world’s first-ever vending machine at the Intu shopping center in Broadmarsh. The machine contains fresh fruit, water, sandwiches, baked goods and personal hygiene products. The majority of the food items have been donated by local redistribution organizations working to reduce food waste.
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The machines allow people to access food, clothing and other essential items free of charge at any hour, meaning no one is left without aid outside of charity and shelter operating hours. The machines are low cost to run, largely due to their automated nature and donated goods. Volunteers manage their day-to-day operation, refilling them as needed.
While Hubbub’s Community Fridge Network, a food redistribution program that aims to address food waste and food insecurity in local communities, is open to all community members, the Action Hunger's vending machine is intended exclusively for those in need. A special keycard is required to access the items inside. Cards can be obtained at the Friary, a drop-in support center for the homeless in Nottingham, following an assessment of need. Cardholders are entitled to up three items per day and must attend local support services once a week to prevent it from being deactivated.
“We want our low-cost solution to complement other services that are available, as engagement with professionals and local support services is instrumental to breaking the cycle of homelessness,” the organization says on its website.
The idea was coined by Huzaifah Khaled, a Nottingham local and PhD candidate, who managed to convince N&W Global Vending, one of the world’s largest vending companies, to fund the project and got the Friary onboard with the idea.
Action Hunger has plans to expand the program — 25–30 more machines are expected to be installed throughout the UK by the end of 2018. The program will also roll out in the United States next year in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle.
Meanwhile, two London entrepreneurs have created a TINDR-inspired mobile app, OLIO, to encourage community members to share unused food rather than throw it out.
The app is the brainchild of co-founder Tessa Cook, a former corporate executive, who dreamed up the idea during a move from Geneva to London three years ago. When movers suggested Cook toss the food in her fridge during the packing process, she set out to find someone to give the food to — without success.
“I though, this is perfectly delicious food. I know there is someone within 100 meters that would love it. The problem is they don’t know about it,” Cook told The Independent.
To solve the problem, she teamed up with Saasha Celestial-One, a former investment banker, to create the food sharing app. After two rounds of investor funding, the pair secured £1.65 million to launch OLIO.
After downloading the app and creating an account, users upload a photo and short description of the food item they want to get rid of. Those interested in the item can contact the advertiser via private message to arrange for pickup. At the end of the transaction, users provide a rating for their experience, a mechanism which helps prevent the system from being abused.
Just one year following its launch, the app has already accumulated 322,000 registered users and more than 400,000 food items have been shared. Major supermarkets and food chains such as Sainsbury’s and Pret A Manger, as well as local restaurants, have also partnered with OLIO, redistributing food that would otherwise go to waste to local communities.
The public sector is also making moves to kick food waste to the curb. UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove has announced a £500,000 Food Waste Reduction Fund to expand food redistribution efforts in communities across the UK.
The Fund will be administered by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP). The funding will be open to organizations who redistribute food and to charities who receive and share food with people in need. The Fund aims to help organizations overcome common barriers such as training and education; infrastructure support, such as new vehicles to transport more types of food; forming collaborative partnerships; and communication, logistics and technology to facilitate effective redistribution.
“Wherever food surplus cannot be prevented, it should be used to feed people rather than go to waste. I welcome this new fund to support the valuable work of food redistribution charities and the contribution they make,” said Thérèse Coffey, Environment Minister. “We all need to work together to reduce UK food waste and I would like to see more action, including additional financial support, from businesses across the food sector to prevent food waste occurring.”
“We are pleased to announce this new fund to ensure that surplus food gets to more people in need. This will complement the redistribution work we’re already doing with the food and drink industry through the Courtauld Commitment 2025. We look forward to receiving expressions of interest in 2018,” said Peter Maddox, Director of WRAP.