UK households throw away on average a quarter of their weekly shop, we talk to the founders of OLIO who are pioneering the new app that connects people with local business and neighbours to enable food sharing, rather than binning.
Tell us about OLIO – what’s your mission?
OLIO is an app connecting neighbours with each other and with local businesses so food can be shared, not binned.
What motivates you?
I am motivated by our mission for OLIO, which is to unlock the value (economic, social, environmental, and nutritional) of food that is wasted in the home and local community. I see food waste as a market failing, it simply doesn’t make sense to let good food go to waste when there is someone nearby who would love to eat that food, if only they knew it existed. I’m excited by the opportunity to use modern technology to solve such a big but basic market inefficiency, and also by the opportunity to have an equally positive social and environmental impact.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
In launching OLIO, Tessa, my cofounder, and I took a real leap of faith, and we are really proud of the traction we’ve achieved in such a short period of time. We launched our pilot in July 2015 but only made the app available across the UK at the end of January 2016, and now 4 months later have nearly 50,000 downloads and over 30,000 items of food have been successfully shared.
What are the challenges you face?
One of our biggest challenges with OLIO is the irony that our earliest adopters, who hate food waste, are also unlikely to actually have any surplus food to share. OLIO is essentially a hyperlocal marketplace for sharing surplus food, and whilst demand for items posted is very strong, we’re still working to figure out how to ‘unlock the supply’ of surplus food. We need to become part of people’s daily lives, and this will take time.
What are you working on that’s getting you fired up and excited?
One thing that has been really exciting is our partnership with Foodies Festival, which is touring around the UK this summer. After every festival, there are thousands of leftover food items from the goody bags. We redistribute these locally via the app, and also partner with local charities, to ensure every last item finds a home where it will be eaten.
Where do you want to take OLIO next?
I’m really pumped to make OLIO available in new geographies from which we have had lots of inbound requests for the app. By mid-June 2016 OLIO will be available for users across the EU, USA, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. We have a model whereby we actively support any volunteer who wants to take the initiative to launch OLIO in their own community, and hopefully we will see lots of new food sharing networks popping up all over the globe.
What can we, as individuals, do to make a difference?
Everything! Half of all food waste in the UK takes place in the home. If we want to really make a dent in this, benefit from less food going to landfill and the freeing up of the resources that went into producing that food in the first place, we have to take responsibility for food waste in our homes. If we each individually share our unwanted food while it’s still edible, we can make a massive difference collectively. Not only does it feel amazing to prevent good food from going to waste, but sharing is also a super fun way to get to know your neighbours.
If you were Prime Minister for a day, what would be the first thing you’d do?
Pass a Good Samaritan Law in the UK, like the one that exists in the US and limits food donors’ liability, thus encouraging food donations.
What’s the coolest project or product you’ve come across, and inspired you?
I recently met the founder of Tengri Noble Yarns, who has formed a collective of Mongolian yak farmers, put in place fair trade supplier agreements, and helped to create the first export market for yak hair to be spun into luxury yarns. Not only is it an excellent business idea, but she’s also introducing transparency into the notoriously murky world of luxury fashion, to the benefit of the producers, consumers and the environment. Awesome project!
Can you recommend a life- or game-changing book for our readers?
The principles of The Lean Start-Up can be applied to just about any endeavour, and it is a must read for anyone looking to do something entrepreneurial. And while it’s somewhat embarrassing to admit it, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus has proved exceptionally useful for me in my personal relationships.
What do you listen to when you’re cooking dinner?
I’m a podcast addict and my favourite series are This American Life, The Mental Illness Happy Hour, and This Week in Startups.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
To do things that don’t scale, especially in the beginning of any entrepreneurial adventure.
Can you leave us with who’d be your Eco Hero?
I’m incredibly impressed by Rob Greenfield, an author and activist helping people to live happier and healthier for themselves and the planet. He was in London in January and OLIO helped organise an event where he gave his TEDx talk on the Food Waste Fiasco, which was hugely inspiring.
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