If global food waste was a country, it would be the 3rd biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after the US and China. The UK throws away 5 million tonnes of edible food: £15 billion annually.
Tessa Clarke was raised on a dairy farm in North Yorkshire, learning as soon as she could walk, how much hard labour goes into producing the food we eat. Saasha Celestial-One is the daughter of Iowa hippy entrepreneurs (hence the name) who made a living salvaging and reselling people’s unwanted items. She witnessed the cliché daily: one man’s rubbish is another’s treasure. When Tessa and Saasha met in 2002, they lamented the fact that sharing food had become weirder than wasting it.
13 years later, they officially launched OLIO—the food sharing revolution app—with the purpose of transforming our throwaway, squandering society into giveaway, Regenerative communities. The app connects neighbours with each other and with local businesses so surplus food and household items can be shared rather than chucked. This honours Places and Planet—2 of the 5Ps of the Positive Compass—providing small-scale, localised solutions to a global, far-reaching problem.
OLIO means a ‘miscellaneous collection of things'; from herbal teas, fresh baguettes, and inflatable crocodiles, this is exactly what I was greeted with when I opened the app. It’s also a traditional Spanish/ Portuguese stew made to prevent food waste. Tessa and Saasha chose the name because they ‘loved the two O's which could be symbolic of the planet, or the local community and or the idea of sharing to create a circular economy’.
Today, 2.6m OLIOers have joined the platform, sharing 9.8m portions of food across 54 countries. This equates to nearly 30m car miles saved, exemplifying exactly what Tessa and Saasha stand for: small actions x lots of people = massive change. Saving the planet feels far less daunting when it means sharing a bag of carrots with your neighbour. Yet, it is these daily actions which sequester carbon, alter mindsets and exponentially amass value.
OLIO user Trisha touches on another profound impact of the app: ‘I joined OLIO when I was in dire need. Thanks to everyone sharing. Not only the things they no longer need. But sharing the sense of community and compassion.’ When community and compassion are by-products of incrementally saving the planet, you’ve landed a recipe for success. This goes far beyond calculable units of CO2 saved, positively impacting lives with a sense of togetherness and gratitude, uplifting People: another integral bearing of the Positive Compass.
Moreover, OLIO’s Food Waste Heroes programme supports local businesses in providing sustainable solutions. They recruit and train volunteers to collect surplus food and safely distribute it amongst their community via the app. Sainsbury’s, Eurostar, Pret, as well as the world’s largest contract foodservice company, Compass Group, are some of the names to have joined the food sharing revolution, proving the power of Partners—one of the 5 Ps of the Positive Compass—to upscale and grow changemaker initiatives.
When Covid hit, Tessa feared people may be discouraged to use a sharing app. What actually happened was propitious and heartening. In 2020, OLIO users skyrocketed 500%. In part, this is due to people saying they felt safer collecting food from a neighbour than going to big supermarkets, using public transport. I think it goes beyond feeling safer. Reinventing consumption around zero-waste and community sharing feels more caring, rewarding and human. A kind neighbourly exchange is more fulfilling than the self-checkout telling you to remove that last item from the bagging area. Collectively, we crave daily, purposeful exchanges and actions, which can only be a positive thing for shifting into a circular and Regenerative culture.