A Meal-Recycling App Takes Off in the U.K.

Four friends who were bothered by the 660,000 tons of food waste UK restaurants generate each year created an app to keep it from heading to the landfill.

takeout_articleThe battle against food waste is growing more visible, especially in Europe. This year, both France and Italy passed legislation aimed at reducing wasted food. At 15 million tons per capita, the U.K. is the food waste capital of Europe. Four friends bothered by the 660,000 tons of food waste generated annually by U.K. restaurants created an app to significantly slow that tide. In 2015, their Too Good To Go (TGTG) app debuted in a handful of U.K. cities, connecting diners with excess food from hundreds of restaurants, cafés, and bakeries.

How it works: TGTG users in London, Brighton, and elsewhere launch the app to see which leftover meals are available from nearly 100 London restaurants (as well eateries in Leeds, Manchester, and a few other cities), purchase those meals from between £2 and £3.80 apiece, and pick them up near closing time. TGTG provides partner restaurants with biodegradable takeaway boxes and encourages users to buy £1 meals to give to charity. The results were immediate: In Brighton, along the U.K.’s southern coast, more than 600 meals have been “saved” since June 1, according to TGTG.

“Food waste is high on the agenda of environmental and social issues right now, and especially so in big cities, where apparent affluence can mask deep deprivation,” cofounder Chris Wilson, 25, told the Daily Mail. “The ultimate goal is to use it for restaurants to solve their waste management problem, rather than it being about making profit.”

Like U.S.-based apps such as Waste No Food (Bay Area) and Zero Percent (Chicago), Too Good To Go works on a hyper-local level — but its rapid spread between UK cities means the model seems to be portable. Could it work for the US hospitality industry?

Corin Hirsch

Corin Hirsch is a writer who specializes in food and drink.