Special for Infobae of New York Times.
Every Sunday at 2 p.m., Marisela Godinez, owner of El Mesón Tequilería, a Mexican restaurant in Austin, Texas, used to fill a 45-liter jar, plus half of another, with the leftover food from the buffet they make for brunch in the restaurant. “We were throwing away a lot of food,” she says.
A few months ago, Godinez signed up for an app called Too Good To Go. Now 10 customers collect “poop bags” of his leftovers for $5.99 each, and he sends far fewer leftovers to the landfill or compost.
Across the United States, apps that connect customers with businesses with leftover food have begun to spread. The concept is simple: restaurants and grocery stores throw away huge amounts of food every day. Instead of throwing it away, apps like Too Good To Go and Flashfood help businesses sell it at a reduced price. They claim that businesses and shoppers help the environment because otherwise food would become food waste, which is a major contributor to climate change.
The apps, which make money from a portion of each sale, are promoted in language that sounds more like a call to arms than a grocery list. “Fight food waste,” says the Flashfood description. The Too Good To Go promotion calls users “food waste warriors.”
Similar apps are popping up all over the world. In Singapore, treatsure started selling leftovers from hotel buffets and has recently started partnering with supermarkets. In Hong Kong, Phenix sells in bakeries, cafes, and takeaway restaurants. Tabete follows a similar model in Japan.
Food production is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for between a quarter and a third of global emissions. Every step of the process—growing, harvesting, moving, processing, packaging, storing, and preparing food—releases carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases that warm the planet. When food is wasted, so is all those emissions.
Also, once unused food reaches landfills, it breaks down and releases more methane.
“We waste 35 to 40 percent of the food we produce,” said Emily Broad Leib, director of the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic. Much of it is perfectly edible, but it can be expensive for companies to store, transport, and donate or sell. “To the extent that all of these apps make things easier for businesses, I think they’re very positive,” she said.
Flashfood launched in Toronto half a decade ago and now works with more than 1,400 supermarkets in the United States and Canada (although that’s still only a small fraction of the tens of thousands of grocery stores overall), including large chains like Meijer, Giant and SpartanNash. It recently entered the New York market at a Stop & Shop in the Bronx. When food approaches its expiration date, instead of throwing it away, merchants can scan the products into the Flashfood system to sell them at half price. Customers can check out items through the app, purchase them, and pick them up at a local store. Flashfood keeps 25 percent.
In Hammond, Indiana, Jerry Wash, a retired rail agent, says he checks regularly to see what’s available at his local Meijer. “We wake up in the morning and you know, most people are checking their social media,” he said. “We review Flashfood.”
Wash asserted that he and his wife, Jody, did not shop in the usual clearance sections of grocery stores, where, in his words, the food for sale is “bruised” and “rotten.” Lately, he added, they plan meals based on what’s available on the app.
Josh Domingues, the company’s founder and CEO, acknowledged that he had recreated the clearance shelf on people’s phones, but said presentation was key. “These foods aren’t segregated in the back corner, that almost makes you feel bad about going to pick,” he said. Instead, at the front of grocery stores are refrigerators marked blue with signs encouraging people to help fight food waste.