Tessa Clarke: the shocking truth about food waste

Tessa Clarke joins Craig on the Founders For Good Podcast to discuss OLIO, and the environmental impact of food waste.

Tessa Clarke is the Founder and CEO of OLIO. OLIO is an app that connects neighbours with each other and with local businesses so surplus food and household items can be shared, not thrown away.

Tessa joins Craig on the Founders For Good Podcast to share her eureka moment for building OLIO, the shocking impact of food waste, scaling OLIO to 6 million users, the pains of raising investment as a female founder and how to build a business that is both for profit and for purpose.

Keep reading to discover...

🌎 The impact food waste has on greenhouse gas emissions

🗑 Why people don’t understand the global impact of food waste  

💙 How OLIO is fighting food waste through community sharing  

What impact does food waste have on greenhouse gas emissions?

Tessa: The environmental impact of food waste is absolutely horrific. If it were to be a country, food waste would be the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after the USA and China. The reason for that is because a land mass larger than China is used every year to grow food that’s not being eaten. So that is land that has been deforested, species driven to extinction, soil that’s been degraded. A quarter of humanity’s fresh water is also used to grow food that is never eaten.  

That food goes on a very long, resource and energy intensive supply chain. When a third of it gets thrown away, the majority ends up going to landfill. When food ends up in landfill it creates methane, which is 25 times more deadly than CO2. And that’s why if it were to be a country, food waste would be the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.  

All of that is quite overwhelming, but to bring it back to us in our homes and to contextualise it a little bit: the carbon emissions from just one kilogram of food waste (so let’s imagine your food waste caddy), is the equivalent of the carbon emissions that result from landfilling 25,000 plastic bottles.  

One kilogram of food waste equals 25,000 plastic bottles. So, it is no exaggeration to say that solving the problem of food waste really is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity today.  

Why don’t people understand the global impact of food waste?

Tessa: Most people have no clue that food waste alone accounts for roughly 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions. There was a piece of research by several hundred of the leading climate change scientists which ranked the top 100 solutions to the climate crisis. And in position number one came reducing food waste, above electric cars, solar power, and a plant-based diet. Yet, most people have no idea about that.  

I think it's probably because food seems very natural. It's organic. It comes from the ground; it returns to the ground. It’s hard to see on the surface how bad it can be. I think the other challenge is that when people think of food waste, most people assume that most takes place at a retail store level. That’s the first place their minds go – to their local supermarket. Actually, it couldn’t be further from the truth here in the UK.  

Retail stores are responsible for just 2% of all food waste. We in our homes are responsible for half of all food waste. A typical British family throws away over £700 of perfectly good food every year. That adds up to over 14 billion pounds. On the one hand that is incredibly depressing, but on the other hand it can be very exciting, very energising because it means we can all play a part in helping to solve it.

How is OLIO fighting food waste through community sharing?

Tessa: OLIO exists to tackle this enormous problem of food waste, but also the problem of waste more generally. We do that by connecting people with their local community so that you can give away rather than throw away your surplus food and other household items.

How it works is you snap a photo of anything you've got that you don't want or need, then add it to OLIO. People living nearby get an alert, letting them know that something new has been added. They can then browse the listings, request what they want, then pop round to pick it up.

That pick-up location could either be your home, or it can take place at some other public location. What's really quite remarkable about OLIO is just how strong the demand is. The majority of food listings added to the app are requested in less than 21 minutes. Most household items are requested in less than two hours.  

So, our number one challenge as a business is to encourage absolutely everybody to take the 10 seconds that it requires to share that item that you might have that you're thinking about throwing away, or that's just gathering dust in your home and to give it away to someone living nearby rather than throw it away.  

Want to learn more about Tessa’s journey with OLIO? Listen to episode 10 of the Founders For Good Podcast.