How Oddbox is combatting food waste in the UK

By Augustus Bambridge-Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Growers throw a lot of healthy fruit and veg away. Image Source: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images
Growers throw a lot of healthy fruit and veg away. Image Source: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Related tags Food waste Vegetables Fruit

Every year, 4.5 million tonnes of fruit and vegetables are thrown away in the UK. But this isn’t just by consumers – often it’s by growers as well, before they’ve even sold their produce. Sometimes this is because the fruit and veg are too big, sometimes too odd-looking, and sometimes it’s simply because there are too many of them. Oddbox is saving them from destruction and sending them to people in a subscription service.

Oddbox is trying to reduce fruit and veg wastage, calling up growers to find out if there’s anything going to waste. It then sends the fruit and veg, boxed up, to its subscribers. It covers around 70% of the UK so far.

What comes to mind when you hear the words ‘food waste’?” ​Emilie Vanpoperinghe, Oddbox’s CEO and co-founder, asked FoodNavigator. “For many people, it’s landfill – rotting apples, unloved loaves of bread and piles of potato peelings. And while this is certainly one part of the picture, the reality is that ‘waste’ starts much earlier in the food chain – right from the moment crops are planted and harvested.

“Most of what we do at Oddbox focuses on food waste at this stage. Our ‘grower-led’ model means we only take what’s already been grown, so we never create new demand.”    

When fruit and vegetables are grown, many of them are thrown away – not by the consumer but by the growers themselves. These fruit and vegetables are perfectly edible, but certain inconsistencies with what these growers are looking for from a product can mean they’re thrown away. 1.2 billion tonnes of fruit and veg are thrown away at this stage in production. According to Vanpoperinghe, these come under two categories.

Either they’re too odd - “fruit and veg that won’t meet retailers’ strict cosmetic specifications – it could be on the small side, be an unusual shape or colour or have been marked in some way while growing​,” - or there are too many of them, as “sometimes the weather causes more crops to grow than predicted. Sometimes orders get cancelled. And all too often, challenges around demand forecasting simply mean growers have more than is needed.”

Oddbox helps growers use their wasted more effectively, Vanpoperinghe told us. “When it comes to what would happen to fruit and veg without Oddbox, the results, as with anything food waste-related, weren’t black and white.

“Growers never want to waste crops they’ve put hard work into, so they’ll always try to find a home for them – that might mean selling to another secondary market or even using them as animal feed.

“In reality, it’s impossible to know for certain if fruit and veg would have been wasted without Oddbox, but 100% of the growers we surveyed said we’re playing an effective role in fighting food waste, even though the produce we take could potentially have gone somewhere else.”

Because of this complexity, it was important for Oddbox to understand which food was going where, and how much they could save.

After finding out some fruit and veg might find another home without us, we spent nine months with our growers and experts digging deeper into how we fight food waste and what more we can do,” ​Vanpoperinghe told us.

“In 2022, we worked with sustainability experts at 3Keel to dig deeper into the root causes of farm-level food waste. We wanted to understand from our growers how our weekly rescue missions make a difference and, importantly, what more we could do to help.​”

A lot of fruit and veg is thrown away by growers for looking too odd. Image Source: Wataru Yanagida/Getty Images

Combatting food poverty

As of January 2023, 17.7% of UK households were food insecure. With so many vegetables and fruit going to waste, this can easily be mitigated.

As well as ensuring that less fruit and veg goes to waste, Oddbox also work closely with a number of charities.

At the end of each week, we donate any extra fruit and veg we have to charities like Fareshare, KIND and City Harvest,” ​Vanpoperinghe told us. “Not only does this help fight waste, it also gets tasty food to those who need it. We’re proud to be making a difference.

“We’ve donated over 493 tonnes of fruit & veg since 2020 equivalent to 1,173,119 meals.”

Fareshare, for example, “take good quality surplus food from across the food industry and get it to frontline charities and community groups – including school breakfast clubs, homeless shelters and older people’s lunch clubs. We’ve worked together since 2020.”

A climate issue

Combatting food waste isn’t only a hunger issue, but a climate issue as well. Food waste has an impact on the environment 248 times greater than that of plastic. Project Drawdown, a resource providing potential solutions to climate change, identified ‘reducing food waste’ as the most important solution.

​​Globally, around 1.2 billion tonnes of food are wasted on farms each year, with an estimated 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions coming from food waste alone,” ​Vanpoperinghe told us.

“And yet there still isn’t a unified or coherent approach to tackling this monster of a problem. So, as our business has grown, we’ve not only challenged ourselves to rescue more fruit and veg, but to make a difference in other ways, too.”

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