Image Credits: Dani Machlis/BGU.
Scaling up food sharing applications could significantly reduce the tons of food thrown away every year without appreciably increasing greenhouse gases, according to a new study led by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s Dr. Tamar Makov.
The findings were just published in Nature Communications. Dr. Makov led a team of researchers from Yale University, Harvard University, Boston College and University of California Davis.
Global post-harvest loss of edible food is estimated to be 1.3 billion metric tons a year. That represents 8% of greenhouse gas emissions, 20% of freshwater consumption, and 30% of agricultural land use. In the EU and US the average household wastes between 124 -154 kg/cap of food each year, about 10% of household annual food expenditure. “Altogether this represents an extraordinary waste of resources and money, not to mention the ethical travesty of wasting a full third of the global food harvest while one in nine humans on Earth suffers from chronic undernourishment,” says Dr. Makov.
The short shelf life of many food items makes their redistribution particularly challenging. The sharing economy, is especially well suited for this task given its scalability, flexibility, and ability to quickly match supply with demand.
Dr. Makov and her colleagues analyzed data on 170,000 posts on the leading peer-to-peer food sharing app – OLIO. They found that more than 60% of items listed were in fact collected. People shared items such as baked goods (29%), kitchen and pantry staples (17%), fresh produce (16%) and prepared food (13%). According to their calculations, 91 tons of food were shared between April 2017 and October 2018.
“While that number pales in comparison to the global total, these findings along with our environmental calculations indicate that food sharing can help fight climate change and the potential benefits of scaling up such activities” says Dr. Makov
“People were quite willing to accept food from strangers” adds Makov, “and while sharing food is a longstanding practice, digital apps make sharing with strangers cheaper and easier, and therefore possible on a much larger scale than ever before.”
Dr. Makov is a new faculty member in the Department of Management in the Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management at BGU. Additional researchers included Alon Shepon from Harvard, Jonathan Krones from Boston College, Clare Gupta from UC Davis and Marian Chertow from Yale.