Too Good To Go is an app that allows you to buy heavily-discounted mystery bags of food that would have otherwise been wasted. I discovered it in a local café when a customer walked in, announcing that they were here for Too Good To Go, and was handed a bag of pastries. After a second, equally-happy-looking customer did the same I decided to look it up.
Founded in Denmark in 2015, the Too Good To Go program first become popular in central Europe and is now available in 17 countries, having expanding into the US, Canada, and Ireland during the Covid years. In the US, the program runs in around 13 cities – starting on the East Coast in 2020, expanding to the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago and Austin in 2021, and adding LA in Sept ‘22.
The contents of the bags are usually not a complete mystery – businesses provide a one-line description of roughly what the bag will contain. Most bags from bakeries and cafés will contain a selection of the pastries remaining at the allotted pick-up time – usually four or five pastries that would cost at least $12, sold for $3.99. I’ve yet to get a mystery bag from a grocery store but that would be more of a true mystery and sometimes even more of a bargain.
The problem of food loss & waste
You probably know some of this story – around one third of our food is not eaten. That number has increased since 2014 when the World Bank estimated food loss & waste at around 25%. But I want to show a few stats from that report since it broke down the information in a few useful ways. For example, it is estimated that food loss & waste amounts to 400 – 500 calories per day per person in developing countries, and 750 – 1500 calories in developed countries. The other interesting breakdown from the World Bank report is the following graph showing sources of food loss & waste around the world:
Two key things to note in the graph above: the total percentage of food lost & wasted (from 15% in Latin America to more than 40% in North America and Oceania) and the difference in where the food waste occurs, between regions. In Sub-Saharan Africa not much of the food that reaches the consumer is wasted, in stark contrast to the Global North. For anyone wanting to get into this, bear in mind that there are usually two terms used to describe food that’s not eaten:
Food loss refers to food that’s lost during production, processing, handling, and storage (orange, red and dark blue bars in the graph above). A Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report The State of Food and Agriculture (2019) estimates that around 14% of food is lost before reaching the retail sector.
Food waste refers to food that’s lost during distribution and consumption (light blue and green bars in the graph). The United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP) 2021 report on food waste estimated that around 17% of total global food production is wasted during distribution and consumption.
Combine those numbers and you get back to the current estimate that around one third of food is not eaten. This comes with an estimated carbon footprint of 4.4 billion tonnes of CO2 – around 7.5% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
That’s a huge chunk of our GHG emissions that’s easily addressable. And it’s not just about climate change – food production creates some of the greatest burdens on the planet, from land use and deforestation to resource use and pollution. Here’s a quote from the UNEP’s 2021 report on food waste:
Food waste reduction offers multi-faceted wins for people and planet, improving food security, addressing climate change, saving money and reducing pressures on land, water, biodiversity and waste management systems. Yet this potential has until now been woefully under-exploited.
Other ways deal with food waste
I won’t get into the food loss side (production and processing), but hopefully I’ll get around to researching this for a future post. You can read about the potential benefits and pitfalls of the ugly food companies here. After graduating, my first research project was actually an EU-funded project to develop an early-warning system for food spoilage fungi. Spoilage is certainly an issue, especially in warmer, humid climates, and there’s a need for technical and logistical solutions on the food loss side.
But for now I want to focus on the consumer-facing side of things – food waste. According to the UNEP’s 2021 report, more than half of our global food waste occurs in households. When you do generate food waste at home, make sure to compost it, when possible – putting it in the trash only adds to its GHG footprint as it generates methane emissions. But an even better approach is to avoid food waste in the first place, as much as you can.
The most obvious way to avoid food waste is to plan meals around your fresh food that’s closest to going off. A back up option is to freeze food that you don’t think you’ll eat in time, or make something out of it – smoothies, soups, jams and pickles are all good options. Another thing that you should bear in mind is that “best before” or “sell-by” expiration dates should be taken with a pinch of salt. This has actually been a major side-campaign for Too Good To Go – a new label that has been added to food packaging across Europe. The goal is to encourage people to not toss out food as soon as the expiration date is reached.
Bottom line: I’d recommend giving Too Good To Go a try – the app is easy to use and it’s also fun to buy mystery bags. The company is a certified B-Corporation and is on a journey to becoming carbon-neutral. Too Good To Go has launched several projects to combat food waste – the labeling program above and various education initiatives such as a cookbook (free to download) for avoiding food waste.