Martin Rohleder, sales director of OLIO talks to us from his home in Holland about how the industry will be under great pressure as far as waste prevention and management is concerned as we emerge from the crisis.
Footprint: Tell us about OLIO in a nutshell?
Martin Rohleder: OLIO was born out of a lightbulb moment in 2015 when our co-founder, Tessa Clarke, was moving back to the UK and the moving company would not take her surplus food, so she went around her neighbourhood to try and share this with others, which is when she realized that there was a problem needing a solution. Today we have over 2.2M users in 53 countries sharing food (and non-food) on the OLIO app. In addition to the household sharing on the app, we are also partnering with thousands of UK business sites to rescue their surplus food (and non-food) through our Food Waste Heroes program (we have over 9,000 food safety trained Food Waste Hero volunteers in the UK supporting this). We are also quite proud of the fact that, besides supporting these businesses to reduce food waste, we are also helping to build communities, through the sharing experience, also reaching those most vulnerable that charities may not be able to reach.
F: What waste trends you have noticed during the Covid crisis?
MR: Pre-lockdown it was encouraging to see that there was a downward trend in food waste, with raised awareness about the magnitude of the problems, but also raised awareness about solutions, like OLIO. At the start of lockdown, I think what happened was that food waste decreased significantly, with research by Hubbub showing that 48% of people said they were wasting less food and over half of all people said they were valuing food more. However, as lockdown has eased, we’ve unfortunately seen food waste increase again, with the latest WRAP data showing the average level of household food waste measured across 4 key products showing a 31% increase since April, but still significantly below pre-lockdown levels. In respect of businesses, at lockdown we saw massive amounts of food at risk of going to waste, and this is where charities and solutions like OLIO stepped up to support businesses to rescue thousands of tons of surplus food from going to waste. During the first 30 days of lockdown, our Food Waste Heroes rescued double the amount of food than they did in the previous 30 days.
F: We are seeing more and more reports that food waste is creeping up as lockdown eases. How worried are you about this?
MR: Very worried. 1/3 of all food produced globally goes to waste, and most of is still edible. Consider also all the precious resources that went into producing it. For example, 1/4 of the world’s fresh water, or an area the size of China that would have largely suffered deforestation. If food waste were a country, it would be the 3rd largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions (behind China and the USA). So yes, I am very worried, because we simply do not have the luxury of time to save our planet.
F: You deal with businesses and the consumer. Clearly volume is different but how do domestic and commercial cultures compare?
MR: Indeed, the volume is different, with, according to latest research from WRAP, 70% of food waste occurring in the households, but still a significant 1.1M tonnnes occurring in the HaFS sectors, and the majority of it still edible. I think the key difference is that we still suffer from the mindset that, as individuals, we cannot really have an impact, so at household level we may think that we cannot change much, but we absolutely can, call it the power of the collective. In businesses there is more of that collective mindset and also the level of food waste tends to be more visible, which also creates more pressure from the public and also from employees. Food waste not only costs businesses money, but also damages reputations.
F: How much uptake have you seen in your services since March?
MR: We have been extremely busy rescuing hundreds of tons of surplus food from businesses in the face of lockdown, and we are continuing to support our customers that have remained open during lockdown. We are now also supporting our customers as they re-open, particularly in the face of the unpredictability of forecasting. At a household level, we have seen a dramatic spike in listings on the OLIO app, and sharing, both food and non-food items, all of which is very encouraging.
F: You clearly have a helicopter view of waste overall, do you think there has been a shift in best practice as far as plastic and coffee cups are concerned?
MR: It is encouraging to see companies like Starbucks re-introducing the reusable cup, despite covid-19. Unfortunately, the pandemic led to a dramatic increase in plastic waste. PPE equipment, home delivery meals, online ordering, SUP (bottled water, etc). When you consider that, pre-covid 19, less than 9% of all plastic produced in the world was being recycled, this is a massive problem, and unfortunately covid-19 hurt this further. We need to move away from this culture of convenience that we are used to, and not only improve recycling, but also produce less plastic in the first place, in particular virgin plastic.
F: Do you think businesses will be under greater pressure than ever as far as waste prevention and management is concerned as we emerge from the crisis?
MR: Absolutely. Pre-covid19 there was already increasing pressure in the media. It simply cannot be that you have almost 1bn people in this planet suffering from food insecurity – and this is not ‘the rest of the world’ as there are over 8M Brits suffering from food insecurity – and on the other we are throwing away edible food to the extent that we are. I think Covid-19 has highlighted the problem of climate change, the problem of food insecurity, the need for community support, and the need for businesses to be both environmentally and socially responsible. It is no longer enough to ‘talk-the-CSR-talk’, it’s time to walk it.
F: How does the UK compare to nations in the EU?
MR: I think we are getting there. I believe legislation needs to help accelerate this. Look at France, for example, with the introduction of their food law in 2016 banning supermarkets from throwing away surplus edible food, risking fines of up to EUR 10,000. In South Korea a new policy was implemented making households pay for recycling according to how much food they throw away. Thankfully in the UK there are plenty of resources and solutions available to support business. For example, over 200 UK businesses have adopted the WRAP/IGD Food Waste Reduction Roadmap. It is encouraging also that if the proposed New Environment Bill is adopted, effective Jan 2023, commercial establishments (meeting minimum threshold) will be required to separate waste, with food waste included as a separate stream. This will help to raise awareness and work with suppliers to bring the right solutions.
F: How important will tech and innovation be in the war on waste?
MR: Critical. It is encouraging to see the focus from the investment community on tech for good. As I mentioned earlier, key to tackling food waste head on is raising awareness and at the same time, providing solutions. When you consider the simplicity of the OLIO neighbour-to-neighbour sharing app, there should be no reason for households to be wasting food (or non-food items for that matter). On the business end, if you consider the food waste hierarchy, there are plenty of tech solutions across the hierarchy to help business ensure that, in the end, no edible surplus food goes into the bin, and no food waste goes to landfill. What is key is collaboration between all the players to make this happen. In the end, on the subject of food waste, there can be no excuses. The solutions are readily available, and it’s time for businesses to act.