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Avoiding “wastefulness” Apps help find unsold food and reduce waste

By Kirsten Grieshaber
The Associated Press

Franziska Lienert, a spokeswoman for the company that runs the “To Good To Go” app, uses a tablet to find a restaurant participating with the food-sharing community.

ABERLIN» fter a long day at work, Annekathrin Fiesinger is too tired to consider making dinner at home. So the 34-year-old uses her smartphone to check nearby restaurants, hotels or bakeries in Berlin for food being sold for a discount at the end of the day.

The part-time coffee shop worker, who is studying for a degree in the science of ecosystems, is part of a growing movement of environmentally-aware people in Germany and beyond who are using apps to reduce food waste and to try to cut down on climate-wrecking carbon emissions.

While it’s unclear how big an impact such efforts have in ultimately reducing emissions, they reflect how environmental concerns are growing and shaping the behavior of consumers and businesses.

“For me, this is all about the environment,” Fiesinger said. “We cannot go on with all this wastefulness.”

Fiesinger uses “Too Good To Go,” Europe’s most popular app to find discounted unsold food. It uses her phone’s GPS to tell her which registered businesses nearby have extra food for sale, and what they’re offering.

“It’s super easy: Just download the app and, on your way home, pick up what you like best,” she explained, scrolling through a long list of photos advertising veggie meals, baked goods and unsold lunch specials.

The app is part of a growing number of services using technology to help reduce food waste.

Activists have built online communities to share food with neighbors before throwing it away. Startups have teamed up with supermarkets to create applications that alert consumers when groceries that are about to expire are marked down. Even the German government has launched a phone app offering recipes by celebrity chefs made specifically for leftover groceries that often get discarded.

On average, every German throws away more than 120 pounds of food per year, the government says. That’s about 11 million tons of food annually, which creates 6 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming.

Globally, about one-third of all food ends up in the garbage.

Emissions come from burning the wasted food but also from producing the food in the first place. For example, cattle raised for beef and milk are the animal species responsible for the most emissions, representing about 65 percent of the livestock sector’s emissions, according the U.N.

The German government has said it wants to reduce food waste by half until 2030, and Chancellor Angela Merkel called on all citizens to support initiatives that help avoid food waste.

“I think that every single person can contribute to this big goal,” Merkel said during her weekly podcast in February.

The “Too Good To Go” app, which was created by a couple of Danish entrepreneurs in 2015, has seen its number of users grow rapidly. More than 5,000 people download the app in Germany every day, a spokeswoman for the company said. It’s also available in 10 other European countries, including Denmark, France, Great Britain and Poland.

Ten million people use “Too Good To Go,” and 23,300 food businesses participate, said the app company’s spokeswoman, Franziska Lienert.

It’s the most popular, but other food-sharing apps include FoodCloud, Karma or Olio, which is available in hundreds of cities in the United States.

To make a profit, “Too Good To Go” keeps 1.09 euros ($1.22) per meal sold through the app. The food usually is about 50 percent less expensive than its original price.

Like Fiesinger, most of the app’s users are university students and young, tech-savvy professionals.

While a growing number of businesses are participating in such app-based schemes, many others still give their unsold food to charities that distribute it to the homeless or other people in need.

In Berlin, Fiesinger checks her phone for food offered in her neighborhood. She decides on a lunch special at the Aennchen von Thorgau restaurant on the banks of the Spree River. She clicks on one of four unsold pasta dishes, ordering and paying automatically.

“In Berlin, it’s really easy to find something — there’s something waiting for you on every corner,” Fiesinger said on her way to pick up her meal.

Restaurant owner Armin Doetsch said he participates in the app’s program primarily for environmental reasons.

“We often have leftovers from our lunch specials,” Doetsch said. “Rather than tossing it, we prefer to give it away, even if it’s only for little money.”

He piles a dish of Spaetzle pasta with mushrooms into a container Fiesinger had brought along and hands it over with a smile.

“We also want to avoid extra packaging waste,” Doetsch said. “Everybody who brings along their own Tupperware box gets free ice cream as a reward.”

 

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