Mobile apps help users find unsold food and reduce waste

By KIRSTEN GRIESHABER Associated Press

BERLIN — After a long day at work, Annekathrin Fiesinger is too tired to consider making dinner at home. So the 34-year-old uses her smart phone 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 also 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 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,” says Fiesinger. “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 left-over groceries that often get discarded.

On average, every German throws away more than 55 kilograms (120 pounds) of food a year, the government says. That’s about 11 million tons of food annually, which creates six 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% of the livestock sector’s emissions, according the U.N.

Scientists say the only possible way to slow down global warming is by drastically reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide in the coming decades. Doing so means ending the use of fossil fuels and cutting back on other sources of emissions, such as intensive land use for agriculture.

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. “Digitization can help with intelligent packaging and (online) platforms via which one can then share food.”

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 says. It’s also available in ten other European countries including Denmark, France, Britain and Poland.