Food waste is a rarely talked about contributor to global warming.
When food is wasted — whether it’s thrown out because of expiration date confusion or even boredom — it also wastes the energy and water that it took to grow and package it. Wasted food also ends up in landfills, which produce methane, a greenhouse gas that is more potent than carbon dioxide.
Launched in Denmark in 2015, Too Good To Go is an app that connects users with extra or leftover food from local restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops and grocery stores and sells the food at a lowered list price to help fight food waste.
The United States discards more food than any other country in the world — between 30% to 40% of the country’s food supply according to estimates — and, at the same time, over 35 million people are suffering from food insecurity.
Too Good To Go’s origin story is a straightforward one. Co-founder Lucie Basch told Fortune in 2021 that one evening she noticed a baker throwing away a ton of baked goods.
“I asked if I could have them, but the baker said he wasn’t allowed to donate the food,” she told the publication. “So I paid for it, and he ended up giving me three times more than what I had paid for. That made a light bulb go off.”
From restaurants to grocery stores, businesses throw out edible food on a regular basis. Basch thought, what if there was a way to get people to buy that food instead?
As of reporting, Too Good To Go operates in several major cities and areas throughout the U.S., including New York.
I wanted to try it out for myself and I downloaded the app and combed through a variety of businesses within walking distance of my apartment. Every “Surprise Bag” listed in my area was between $3.99 and $6.99.
At first, my only concern was very conceited and superficial. I worried the employees wouldn’t have any idea what I was talking about when I’d tell them I was there to collect my $3.99 bag of food. The app made everything seem almost too easy — giving me hour-long timeframes to pick up and alerting me of how many food bags were still available at each location — and it had only launched in the U.S. in 2020.
But everywhere I went — from my block’s local coffee shop to a salad chain — knew exactly what I meant when I asked for my Too Good To Go bag.
It’s partly because Too Good To Go is not just a convenient and inexpensive way for me, a consumer, to grab some food. It’s also a huge benefit for businesses that also don’t want to contribute to food waste. Too Good To Go even exceeded its 2020 goal of partnering with 75,000 businesses.
“Food retailers can’t dictate customer behavior — but they can still influence how much ends up in the bin,” an Oliver Wyman report says. “The further down the value chain that food is wasted, the more costly it becomes, both in monetary and environmental terms.”
I visited four different businesses with the app and got a ton of food from each one for less than $5. The nearby coffee shop, which I had never visited before, gave me a paper bag with croissants and danishes. A grocery store a few blocks away handed me two perfectly good salads that served as my lunches for the following two days.
The ease and convenience of the app are almost unsettling — and that was the co-founders’ point behind starting the app.
“[It’s] a solution for those in the food industry that is just as easy as throwing food away,” Basch told Fortune.
Ending food waste will not happen overnight. There are systems and mindsets in place, particularly in the U.S., that consumers and businesses have to overcome. Solving the growing problem requires attacking the issue at its roots.
Recycle Track Systems (RTS) describes itself as a waste-conscious collection service that works to help companies and communities incorporate sustainability into daily routines. In an article on food waste in America, RTS showed that the top food waste sources are homes (43% of food waste) and restaurants, grocery stores and food service companies (40%).
Too Good To Go directly targets roughly 83% of food waste sources.
“Our mission is to inspire and empower everyone to take action against food waste,” Basch said in her interview. “We fill the gap in the food rescue ecosystem.”
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