Why do Irish people waste so much food?

Would you use an App that enables you to give away surplus food? COLETTE SHERIDAN spoke to a Cork student who is doing just that, and encouraging others to sign up to the initiative too
Why do Irish people waste so much food?

Maja Janeczek, who uses the App, OLIO.

STEMMING the tide of food waste as part of a greener way of living is up there on many of our New Year’s resolutions.

In Ireland, we dump an estimated 19,000 tonnes of food a week. For Cork-based Polish student, Maja Janeczek, the food-sharing app, OLIO, is the answer to any waste issues that arise for her.

Maja, aged 21, who is studying Italian and Spanish at UCC, is interested in the environment and activism in general. Since downloading OLIO over two years ago, she checks the app every day. And she regularly accumulates “things that I want to give away”.

As well as unwanted food, Maja also gives away clothes and craft-related items on the app.

She recently moved house and was able to declutter by giving away clothes and books.

“I don’t post every single item. I just say that I have a bag of clothes in a certain size, if anyone wants them. People usually take the whole bag. Because I paint and do knitting and crochet, I always have leftovers from these crafts that I also give away.”

Obviously, food that is going off can’t be given away.

“But if you cook more than you can eat, you can state on the app that you have a spare portion of dinner to give away. You post the item on OLIO with photos and a description. There’s a map giving your approximate location to protect your privacy. A pick up time and location is organised.”

Maja says there are a lot of people willing to come close to her house to pick up stuff.

“Obviously I’m doing them a favour, giving stuff away for free,” she explained.

She donates canned food on the app when she finds she isn’t using it.

“It’s good for people on a limited budget. OLIO works with Tesco as well. They have people who collect food which is close to reaching its ‘best before date’. The food goes to people who are struggling and can’t afford to buy much food.”

While Maja could make money from her unwanted clothes, she adds: “I try not to give into the feeling of trying to make money out of everything because I don’t think that’s healthy.

“Also, it’s more difficult to sell things rather than give them away. If I want to sell stuff, I have to put it on ebay or Facebook Marketplace and wait. I don’t really care that much about money and also, I wouldn’t make much from used items.”

Maja says to cut down on waste food, “it’s good to plan your meals. You can work with what’s left from the previous day. You should do one grocery shop a week, buying everything you need for the week. I don’t really buy excess stuff.”

If, however, Maja has leftover vegetables “that are not super fresh but still edible, I make soups or spreads for bread.”

A vegetarian, Maja always has a stock of canned chickpeas, beans and peas. “Cans are great for preserving food. In Poland, we eat a lot of pickled food so that’s another way of preserving food.”

Irish people can be wasteful, she has observed.

“When I go into a supermarket, every single vegetable is packed in plastic. That’s not a thing in Poland. It’s annoying here. If I want to buy two carrots, I can’t because they come in a plastic bag of about ten of them. I have to look out for specific shops that sell vegetables singly.”

Research shows that sending 1kg of food to a landfill produces the same carbon emissions as doing this with 25,000 500ml plastic bottles.

OLIO is building its user base in Ireland “because we feel it provides the perfect environment for OLIO to thrive,” says co-founder and CEO, Tessa Clarke.

She was inspired to build the app in the UK five years ago, after struggling to find anyone to take the unwanted food from her fridge when she was moving house.

“People in Ireland have an innate sense of community and food is valued. They also like to give and care about each other and the planet.

“By enabling people to easily share more and waste less, we aim to help transform our throw-away society into a giveaway society.”

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data shows an estimated one million tonnes of food are wasted in Ireland each year, costing about €700 per household annually. That’s equivalent to 3.6m tonnes of carbon dioxide collectively.

OLIO’s research found that a third of people feel ‘physical pain’ when they throw away good food. OLIO’s roll-out in Ireland comes off the back of a €36m funding round that will enable it to accelerate its international expansion plans.

In five years, OLIO has acquired more than five million community members worldwide. Over 34 million portions of food have been shared, with the pandemic increasing the number of listings coming onto the app five-fold. Clearly, it’s a case of ‘waste not, want not’.

The app can be downloaded from Google Play and Apple app store.

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