Food for thought: Waste not

BRITAIN/IRELAND • A college project devised by two students to redistribute surplus food from retail outlets to charities that need it has become a big success in Ireland, so much so that the concept is catching on in Britain.

Ms Aoibheann O'Brien still remembers the first box of food collected five years ago. She and co-founder Iseult Ward picked it up at a farmers' market and dropped it off to a youth services centre in Dublin.

The delivery was a dummy run for their college project, tech start-up FoodCloud. Five years on, 8,300 tonnes of food, more than 18 million meals, have been diverted from landfill. FoodCloud employs 30 people tackling food waste from almost 2,000 businesses in Ireland and Britain.

Until late last year, FoodCloud transactions involved small consignments of food collected by individual charities from the delivery bays of supermarkets and shops to serve the most disadvantaged people.

Now, at the duo's large warehouse near Dublin, the scale of their new operation, FoodCloud Hubs, is visible.

"There's a lot wasted at retail level but there are huge volumes that go to waste before they even get to a supermarket and they're in bulk," said Ms O'Brien.

This warehouse and others in Cork and Galway take pallets of food from businesses, including supermarket distribution centres and food producers, and deliver them to charities.

In Britain, more than 1,600 branches of Tesco and three Waitrose stores are now posting donations of food.

There are still challenges as FoodCloud grows, not least keeping the operation financially sustainable and getting food out quickly so it does not go to waste in its warehouses. But feedback is encouraging. "People felt intuitively that this was a really good thing to do," said Ms O'Brien.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2017, with the headline 'Food for thought: Waste not'. Print Edition | Subscribe