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Tackling Food Waste With OLIO's Tessa Clarke

We had a little chat with incredible Tessa Clarke, who started a food sharing revolution in the form of an app called OLIO. We got to find out more about their approach to reducing food waste and how we as individuals can tackle the issue. And of course, we wanted to share our new knowledge with you!

At BLANC, we want to be sustainable in every aspect of our business and when learning the impact that food waste has on the planet, we were determined to find what we can do to help. Food waste is one of the biggest challenges facing us today. With over £15 billion worth of edible food ending up in the bin each year in UK households, it is clear that this is something that we as individuals can help to reduce a lot!

Tessa Clarke founder OLIO

About OLIO

OLIO is a free app that connects users who have food they don’t want or need, with neighbours living nearby who would like it. Users simply snap a picture of their items and add them to OLIO. Neighbours then receive customised alerts and can request anything that takes their fancy. Pick-up takes place - often the same day - at the home or another agreed location. All the food on OLIO is available for free, and half of all listings are requested in less than 1 hour! OLIO also has a non-food section for other household items such as toiletries, kitchen equipment, books, toys & clothes. Since launching in the UK just over 3 years ago, 1 million people have joined OLIO and shared over 1.6 million portions of food. Food has also been successfully shared in 49 countries around the world

What led you to start Olio?

I’m a farmer’s daughter, and so have always hated throwing away good food. This is because I know from first-hand experience just how much hard work goes into producing it! The inspiration for OLIO came approximately 4 years ago when I was moving country and found myself on moving day with some good food that we hadn’t managed to eat, but that I couldn’t bring myself to throw away. I set off on a bit of a wild goose chase to try and find someone to give it to and to cut a long story short, I failed miserably. Through the whole process, it seemed to me crazy that I should have to throw this perfectly good food away when there were surely plenty of people within hundreds of metres of me who would love it, the problem was they just didn’t know about it. And so the idea of OLIO, a mobile app where neighbours can share their surplus food, came about.

prevent food waste vegetables

Why did you choose to go into the field of sustainability?

I always had a vague notion that I wanted to do something “good for the world” but I never knew what. It was only once I had my own experience that led me to found OLIO that I learned about the true state of the world, and what I discovered shocked and horrified me. As a result, I can’t imagine working on anything other than sustainability as it’s the largest challenge – and opportunity – of our lifetime.

When looking back at what was achieved with Olio, what challenges have been the hardest?

Well, at the very beginning our friends & family thought we were crazy quitting our corporate careers to launch a P2P food sharing app and so that wasn’t easy! However once we were up and running, one of our biggest challenges was growing the user base with a marketing budget of close to zero. We quickly overcame this thanks to our Ambassador programme which harnesses the passion and energy of thousands of volunteers to spread the word about OLIO in their local communities, using old-school guerrilla marketing tactics coupled with social media campaigns. At the moment we have 35,000 Ambassadors and have reached over 1 million users, so it seems to be working well!

What is something that most people don't know about food waste?

The two – horrifying - things that most people don’t know are:
1. If food waste were to be a country, it would be the 3rd largest source of climate change, after the USA and China
2. In a country like the UK, households account for well over half of all food waste – this is in contrast to retail stores that generate less than 5% of all food waste!

OLIO app share food

Do you notice an increasing awareness about food waste? Are you optimistic about an upcoming turn in the way people & businesses handle food waste?

Slowly but surely there seems to be growing awareness about the problem of food waste. However we still have a very long way to go, and it most definitely hasn’t had its “plastics” moment yet. However, we’re working hard to try and change that!

What is your main drive, or source of inspiration?

I frequently find myself spurred on when I contemplate the world that my children – who are 4 and 6 years old – are due to inherit. Sadly the prospects are very bleak unless of course, we take action now.

If you could rule the world for one day, what would be your first change?

To make businesses responsible for the full lifecycle of their products – including the responsible disposal of them.

What is your best tip for people who want to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle but don't know where to start?

I would reassure them that whilst it can seem very daunting at first, once you get going it can be surprisingly fun and satisfying! The technique that I’ve found to work is to pick off one thing each week and try and make that change e.g. swap your plastic toothbrush for a bamboo one; carry a reusable water bottle; switch energy provider etc.

collect food neighbours

What is a book/ movie/ podcast you have recommended to your friends and colleagues recently and why?

At the moment I’m recommending the book “Kiss the Ground: How the Food You Eat Can Reverse Climate Change, Heal Your Body & Ultimately Save Our World”. It has a really insightful, thoughtful and highly inspiring message about how re-engineering our food system can result in a win-win-win for the planet, humanity and individuals.

At BLANC, we cannot agree more with Vivienne Westwood's message "Buy less, choose well, make it last". What's your approach to fashion?

About 2 years ago I decided to only buy my clothes from charity shops, which I’ve pretty much managed to stick to! And I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the results.

What do you hope to achieve in the future in terms of sustainability?

Our vision for the future is an unashamedly bold one – we want over 1 billion people using OLIO within the next 10 years. That’s because society’s current linear, disposable and wasteful model of consumption, is by definition unsustainable. This is evidenced in the fact that by the 1st of August last year, humanity had used up all the resources that the earth could replenish in a year! Therefore the future we envision is one where OLIO enables an entirely new model of consumption – a circular, efficient one that connects billions of neighbours hyper-locally to share our most precious resources (both food and non-food), rather than throw them away. And so we hope that our default modus operandi will change from wanting something and going shopping, to wanting something and sharing locally instead. It’s extremely clear to us that if humanity is to stand any chance whatsoever of mitigating the worst effects of the climate crisis, then the OLIO vision of a sustainable future must become a reality!

We hope that this inspired you to rethink what goes in the bin - and we sincerely hope that it will never again be your dinner. Do not forget to download OLIO and share the food with your next-door-neighbour. A big thank you to Tessa who helped us understand the impact of this issue, and that we can all play our part in reducing our impact when it comes to food waste!

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