On Monday night, before visiting the opening of the South Belfast Foodbank, I met up with Carla McSorley, FoodCloud coordinator at Business in the Community Northern Ireland. FoodCloud is a new mobile phone application started by two students at Trinity College Dublin that pairs up businesses looking to unload excess food with charities that can distribute it to people in need. Carla and BITCNI hope the app can reduce food waste and food poverty in Northern Ireland.
Hunger among the poor is on the rise. According to the Trussell Trust, as of April this year, nearly a million parcels of emergency food had been distributed by the charity across the UK. According to a joint report by Oxfam, Trussell Trust and Church Action on Poverty, an estimated twenty million meals were given to people in food poverty in 2013/14 by the three main food aid providers, a 54 percent increase on 2012/13. At the same time that thousands go hungry every night, a House of Lords committee report estimates that 15 million tonnes of food in the UK and at least 90 million tonnes across the EU is wasted as a whole each year.
While people go hungry tons of perishable foods are thrown away every day. “Why should we throw out perfectly good food when there are people living near us who are hungry?” said Carla.
The Northern Ireland Assembly will introduce legislation in 2015 that will ban food waste from landfills. There is real pressure now on food suppliers and distributors across Northern Ireland to increase efficiency and find ways to unload excess food. Apps like FoodCloud won’t just be a CSR nicety in the new year, but a business necessity.
Carla says that the biggest waste of food happens at the production stage. She gives the example of misshapen fruit and vegetables. Perfectly edible fruit and veg are wasted or used as animal feed because supermarkets won’t take them. A charity cooking up soups, pies or other recipes can use this food. When a businesses in Northern Ireland has food they want to unload, they upload their details into the app, a charity receives a text, and upon responding to the text they come and collect the food. The registered charity then serves the otherwise wasted food to people in need.
In a pilot programme with two SPAR stores in east Belfast, the app helped to get more than 140 kilos of food to homeless shelters, food banks and other charities that could make use of it. Carla hopes that the app can add an additional service to food banks like South Belfast Foodbank, which would typically only distribute non-perishables such as tinned and dried goods. With FoodCloud, they would be able to make use of baked goods, meats, fruits and vegetables and other perishables.
FoodCloud is funded by the Department of the Environment’s Challenge Fund, which generates money from the carrier bag levy introduced last year. If your business or charity would like to sign up, please visit: http://www.bitcni.org.uk/what-we-do/planet/resources-and-links/foodcloud-whats-it-all-about/
I write about faith, democracy and culture from a Christian and centre-left perspective.