The “Uber” That’s Fighting Food Waste and Malnutrition

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BUENOS AIRES — Globally, a third of the food that is produced is thrown out; that is roughly 1.3 billion tons of food a year. Meanwhile, there are 750 million undernourished people in the world. In the United States, food waste represents a loss of about $160 billion annually. But it’s not only a social and economic issue, it also impacts the environment. According to a 2014 Food and Agriculture Organization report, the global carbon footprint of all wasted food is about 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. Progress in fighting food waste is needed now more than ever. 

Why So Much Waste?

Food waste normally happens for three reasons: inequality, inadequate diet guidelines and inefficiencies in supply chains. According to former Guardian reporter Karl Mathiesen, the key issues contributing to food waste “include supermarket promotions and packaging, poverty, a diminished cultural focus on the preparation and management of food and household size.”

Then there is the consumption aspect of food waste. “There are a lot of reasons, but I think a big issue is that we’re very aspirational when we are shopping,” author Dana Gunders said. “What seems exciting in the store is a lot less so when we get home.”

Fighting Food Waste With Technology

An Argentinian NGO called Nilus has been trying to change this scenario. Since early 2017, the organization works toward fighting food waste through an app. The technology brings together food banks, drivers and recipients, which are typically soup kitchens. The organization’s manifesto says that it aims to “rescue edible food that is about to be discarded and distribute it among community kitchens.”

The app works in a quite simple way. First, the donor enters the information on the extra food they have and would like to donate. Then, recipients receive a notification of the availability of this donation and can request to receive it. Finally, registered drivers are also notified that a “trip” needs to be completed, and can accept responsibility for picking up the donation and delivering it. Donation locations can be tracked in real time.

This model benefits everyone involved: the withdrawal of the food does not entail costs for the donor, the recipients pay a symbolic price per kilogram (on average 10 times lower than what they would pay in a supermarket), and the drivers charge for their service. It is fighting food waste, malnutrition and also creating jobs.

Impact

In Argentina, approximately 16 million tons of food is wasted annually. So far, Nilus has reached 2,506 people, transported more than 62,000 kilograms of food and has six registered drivers, who have completed 130 trips (or deliveries). According to Ady Beitler, one of its creators, in five years they estimate to rescue 28.7 million kilograms of food, which will benefit 239,000 people.

Currently, Nilus is running a pilot in the Argentinian city of Rosario in partnership with the Food Bank of Rosario.Nilus’ Communications & Public Policy Analyst Catalina Grillo told The Borgen Project that the organization plans “to expand across the region of the rest of the country and Latin America, to continue fighting food waste.”

In 2017, Nilus was the winner of the Google Impact Challenge in Argentina, a competition where local nonprofit innovators present ideas on how to make their community — and beyond — an even better place.

Nilus was named after the Nile River, in whose basin the first large-scale collaborative agriculture model was born. Now, through technology and sharing economy models, the organization aspires to digitalize the food rescue industry. It is undoubtedly extremely necessary work.

– Júlia Ledur
Photo: EPA

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