The OzHarvest App Fighting Food Waste
Words by Maddie Lakos
Photos courtesy of OzHarvest
Could something as simple as an app help reduce food insecurity and hunger in remote and rural Australia? Ronni Khan and her team at OzHarvest believe it could.
For those who aren’t familiar with OzHarvest, the organisation has been instrumental in tackling food waste in Australia. So much so that its founder and CEO Ronni Kahn sits on the National Food Waste Steering Committee. This committee was established by the Department of Environment and Energy in February 2018 as part of the National Food Waste Strategy: a framework for halving Australia’s food waste by 2030.
The OzHarvest model of connecting would-be wasted food with charities has helped OzHarvest rescue almost 100 million meals and counting since their inception in 2004. However, the organisation’s scope has been limited to cities and the places in their periphery where their recognisable yellow vans could go. Unfortunately, this has excluded the remote parts of Australia.
“Whilst OzHarvest is working hard to provide a regular supply of fresh and nutritious food, we do not have enough vans to reach everyone,” Kahn says. “This is a huge country and we need to be innovative to solve problems; a digital solution is the answer if we are to have any hope of building a world free of hunger.”
This digital solution is being provided in the form of an app. The OzHarvest Food App was piloted in October 2018 and is purpose-built to connect excess food to vulnerable people in areas that are currently out of the organisation’s reach.
How it works
The new OzHarvest Food App is based on FoodCloud technology currently being used in Ireland and the UK.
“[FoodCloud] is successfully running in thousands of sites across the United Kingdom and Ireland,” Kahn says. “OzHarvest is licensing the software from FoodCloud and worked closely with the team in Ireland to understand the capabilities and processes.”
The FoodCloud system works in a similar way to OzHarvest’s current real-life model: if a store has food they can’t sell, they can instantly upload a description of the food using an in-store scanner or the smartphone app; the food can then be collected by local charities and redistributed.
In 2018, FoodCloud successfully rescued 15.4 million meals across the United Kingdom and Ireland – the equivalent of 28 meals a minute.
The Australian pilot was conducted with 70 supermarket food donors in six states/territories across the country in areas where supply and need have been identified. OzHarvest has projected that, in its first year, the app will provide more than 5.6 million meals to regional and remote Australians in need, divert over 1.8 million kilograms of food from landfill and prevent more than 3.7 million kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions.
“The projections are based on 150 food donors using the app to donate an average 80 kilograms of food around three times a week,” Kahn says. “These are obviously estimated figures, so we hope the app will take off and will deliver much more.”
OzHarvest pitched the app for the Google Impact Challenge Australia 2018, asking for the $1 million grant to assist with the national roll out. Although only $250,000 in funding was received, the organisation intends on rolling out the app nationally when the pilot phase is complete (from January 2019), and will use the funding to get more donors on board.
“The Google Impact Challenge grant will support independent food donors in regional areas by subsidising the subscription fee and provide additional resourcing to help with the on-boarding process,” Kahn says. “The service will be an ongoing process and we hope it will be able to connect as many people as possible with local food relief.”
"A digital solution is the answer if we are to have any hope of building a world free of hunger."
"The most vulnerable are living in remote and regional areas and it’s estimated that 1.5 million people are struggling to access food relief."
Bridging Australia’s food insecurity gap
Australia’s food waste problem costs the economy around $20 billion each year. At the same time, the number of people in Australia who are experiencing food insecurity – that is, not knowing if or how they will find their next meal – is increasing.
“Recent figures announced in October show that four million people in Australia are now experiencing food insecurity, and this number increases each year,” Kahn says. “The most vulnerable are living in remote and regional areas and it’s estimated that 1.5 million people are struggling to access food relief.”
The Foodbank Hunger Report 2018 found that people living in country areas are 33 percent more likely to experience food insecurity than those living in the city. It also identified that less than 40 percent of charities believe they are currently meeting the full needs of the people they assist, and seven percent of people who seek help from food charities are turned away each month due to a lack of resources.
“I am staggered at how many people are still going hungry while good food continually goes to waste. Every day we see the need in our communities and know that so many people are still struggling to access good food to feed their families, it’s heartbreaking,” Khan says.
With the nationwide launch of the OzHarvest Food App in 2019, the organisation is hoping that nowhere in Australia will be too remote to benefit from their food rescue services.
“By using digital technology, we can connect charities in need of food relief with local food donors to help tackle the growing issue of hunger and food insecurity in this country.”