Unless you're religious about a weekly food shop or a #FoodPrepSunday fanatic, you've probably wasted money and contributed to the nation's gargantuan food waste problem while attempting to feed yourself. Each year, UK households throw away around 4.4m tonnes (that's £13bn worth) of food that could have been eaten – a statistic that's even more eye-opening when you consider the ever-present and growing demand for food banks.
Thankfully, efforts are being made to tackle the problem and it's now easier than ever to do your bit. Tesco announced last year that it would be scrapping 'best before' dates on some fruit and veg to reduce the amount of "perfectly edible" waste, while restaurant chains like Pret (which gives leftover food to the homeless) and Itsu (which cuts prices by 50% after 5pm) have been doing their bit for a while. And now a new wave of apps is stepping up to the plate, connecting people to food that would otherwise go straight in the bin.
Karma, which launched in London in February 2018, is one such app. Partner restaurants, cafés and grocery stores upload any surplus food to the platform at a minimum 50% discount, specify how many items are available, and when users can pick up. It's a win-win scenario – retailers get to sell the food rather than throwing it away, while users are able to buy high-quality food for less.
It also gamifies the process as users get push notifications from restaurants they follow and can see which items are available closest to them, so it's a case of you-snooze-you-lose as the keenest observers will likely bag the best food. Once you've paid through the app, you just pick up your order as a takeaway during the restaurant's specified time by showing your digital receipt.
I've used Karma in Shoreditch, east London, to grab food after work and have picked up dishes including a beetroot and coconut cream bowl from Essence Cuisine, and tasty sandwiches in charcoal buns (because, east London) from its sister restaurant Essence Express. The sandwiches were just as tasty over the following two days, which further highlights the arbitrariness of much food labelling. Other popular restaurants like Aubaine, Detox Kitchen, Yuzu, Tibits and Aquavit are also signed up, making it a cheap way to try out new restaurants.
Too Good To Go is another app operating in the UK that does a similar thing, helping businesses sell food which would otherwise be thrown away at a cut price. Helpfully, it's available beyond the capital, in Leeds, Brighton, Birmingham and Manchester, as well as London. Like Karma, it's free to download and the food is even served in biodegradable boxes made of sugar cane, so it's not contributing to the plastic packaging that ends up in landfill either.
If you're looking to rescue food even closer to home, Olio is another app to check out. Like Karma and Too Good To Go, the company is using tech to cut down on food waste while saving users money by encouraging food-sharing among the local community, as well as from local shops and cafés. Upon downloading the free app, users can get access to excess home-grown vegetables, local shops with food approaching its sell-by date, and any unwanted food in nearby households.
If your finances are tight, you can always pick up some unwanted food from a neighbour.
Tessa Cook, cofounder of Olio
It's also useful if you've over-bought food or run out of space in your freezer. Upload a picture of the items, add them to the app and neighbours will receive customised alerts and can request anything they like before picking it up from an agreed location. As well as the food nearing its use-by date from shops, cafés and markets, the most commonly available items are spare vegetables from allotments, cakes from amateur bakers and groceries from household fridges when people go away, move home or start a diet. Everything is either free, or given away for a 'pay as you feel' donation to charity.
"When you live in a city, you often live and cook alone and it can be mission impossible buying food in small quantities, which inevitably leads to waste. Olio means that you can buy a bag of carrots and share what you don't need with a neighbour," Tessa Cook, one of the app's cofounders, told Refinery29 UK.
The app is particularly handy for young professionals when your work and social life can be unpredictable and you often don't get around to eating what you'd intended. "On the flip side, if your finances are tight, you can always pick up some unwanted food from a neighbour, or one of our Food Waste Heroes, who collect and redistribute food from retailers such as Pret and Sainsbury's," she added. Whether you're hoping to save the world or just looking to sample restaurant food on the cheap, food waste-saving apps are definitely worth a go.