Tessa Clarke of food sharing app OLIO
Tessa Clarke has always had an issue with throwing away food

My Life in Food: Tessa Clarke

We caught up with Tessa Clarke, co-founder of the popular food-sharing app OLIO, to discuss food waste, kitchen essentials and sticky toffee pudding

Tessa Clarke of food sharing app OLIO
Tessa Clarke has always had an issue with throwing away food

So, Tessa, what inspired you to start OLIO?

I’m a farmer’s daughter, and so have always hated throwing away good food. This is because I know from first-hand experience just how much hard work goes into producing it! The idea for OLIO came when I was moving to a different country and on moving day, I found myself with some good food that I hadn’t managed to eat and I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away so I set off on a bit of a wild goose chase to try and find someone to give it to. I failed miserably. It seemed crazy that I should have to throw this food away when there were surely plenty of people within hundreds of metres of me who would love it, the problem was they just didn’t know about it. And so the idea of OLIO, a mobile app that connects neighbours to share food, was born. 

How does the app work?

To use OLIO, you simply snap a picture of your surplus food and add it to the app. Neighbours then receive customised alerts and can request anything that takes their fancy. Pick-up takes place, often on the same day, at the home or another agreed location. All the food on OLIO is available for free and half of all listings are requested in less than one hour! OLIO also has a non-food section for other household items such as toiletries, kitchen equipment, books, toys and clothes. 

Why is tackling food waste so important today? 

Sadly, it’s not an exaggeration to say that food waste is one of the largest problems facing humanity today. Globally, a third of all the food produced gets thrown away each year. And if it were to be a country, food waste would be the third-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after the USA and China. That’s because a landmass larger than China is used to grow food that’s never eaten, and so it’s not only the food that’s wasted but also all the resources that go into producing that food are also wasted.

Can you tell us something about food waste that most people might not know?

In a country such as the UK, half of all food waste takes place in the home! This is in contrast to retail stores that generate only 2% of all food waste. This is because we have 28 million households in the UK throwing away approximately a quarter of the weekly shop, which collectively adds up to £14 billion every year whereas there are just tens of thousands of retail stores throwing away less than 1%. So this means that we’re half the problem. But, on a positive note, it also means we can be half the solution!

As a society, we are becoming more and more eco-conscious. Have you seen a rise in the number of people using the app recently?

Without a doubt. Something happened in 2019 and it seems like we’ve had a collective awakening to the climate, biodiversity and resource depletion crises and people are wanting to take action. As a result, we’ve seen more and more people joining OLIO – we now have 1.7 million users, and they’ve together shared 3 million portions of food. This has had the environmental impact of taking nine million car miles off the road and has saved 450 million litres of water. 

OLIO is available in 49 countries around the globe

What are your goals for OLIO in the future?

Our vision for the future is an unashamedly bold one – we want a billion OLIOers within the next 10 years! It makes absolutely no sense to be puzzling over how to stay within a 1.5 degree warmed world and feed a population of 10 billion, whilst continuing to throw away a third of all the food we produce.

What are your top tips for people who want to reduce their food waste but aren’t sure where to begin?

The single most important thing you can do to reduce food waste is to plan for your meals each week, and then to shop to that plan. Also, learn to love your freezer – it’s amazing how many things can be frozen and then used later on. And finally, there are lots of tips and tricks that can be found online about how to store food properly to preserve it for longer, for example, keep onions and potatoes apart; keep tomatoes out of the fridge; pop a slice of onion in with an opened avocado. 

What are your kitchen essentials?

A NutriBullet which I use every day to transform half-eaten or sad-looking fruit and veg into delicious smoothies! Also, beeswax wraps as a replacement for clingfilm, and lots and lots of Tupperware for storage.

And finally, what’s your all-time favourite meal (starter, main and dessert)?

Ooooh, that’s a really tough one! I’m a total dessert person so I immediately went there – probably a sticky toffee pudding with ice cream or an Eton mess. For starters, I’d probably go for soup. And for the main, I think it’s hard to beat a good roast. Very traditional British choices!

What is in season?