We've long been fans of food waste pioneers Oddbox - the fruit and veg box company that rescues 'odd', 'wonky' and 'excess' fruit and vegetables from growers and delivers them directly to your door, so we were delighted to speak to them and find out more about their work and their plans for 2024. (Plus they're giving our BEEN community a great offer - see below).
1. We love Oddbox's mission to fight food waste. How did it all begin?
Back in 2016 our founders Emilie and Deepak tasted a delicious but ever-so-slightly ugly tomato from a market in Portugal. It struck them that they only ever saw identical-looking fruit and veg in our supermarkets, so they did some digging and learnt that around 40% of food produced globally goes to waste.
Why? Either because it’s “too odd” for supermarkets or because growers have “too many”.
Since then, they’ve made it their mission to rescue that fruit and veg, at the same time making sure all the energy and water that went into growing it are put to good use.
From humble beginnings with a handful of customers, Oddbox now works directly with growers to deliver thousands of boxes every week, with our community growing bigger and stronger every day.
2. How does Oddbox work? How are you helping to fight food waste?
As much as 40% of food produced globally is wasted. And when food is wasted, all the water and energy used to grow it is at risk of being lost too. Most people don’t realise it, but food waste is a climate issue – and one of the most urgent ones at that. But it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, Project Drawdown has identified ‘reducing food waste’ as the number one solution to solve climate change.
A lot of what we do at Oddbox focuses on tackling food waste on farms. Around 25% of food waste in the UK happens on farms - more than retail, manufacturing and hospitality put together and around 1.2 billion tonnes of fruit and veg are lost at this stage of the food system annually.
Fruit and veg can be at risk of going to waste on farms for all kinds of reasons, but it tends to be because it falls into one of two categories:
"TOO ODD"- This is 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.
"TOO MANY"- 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.
How is Oddbox helping?
By being ‘Grower-Led’- Instead of telling growers what we want, which is how the food system usually works, we speak to them each week to find out what they’ve already grown and what’s going spare.
By only rescuing the ‘too odd’ and ‘too many’ - Every piece of fruit and veg we rescue from growers is at risk of going to waste for one of these reasons – in lots of cases, for more than one reason.
By being flexible and reliable - We help growers harvest and sell their fruit and veg by being a reliable secondary market. And we're always open to last minute rescues if something unexpected crops up.
3. What achievements are you most proud of since launching in 2016?
So far we have helped rescue the equivalent of over 96 million meals - over 40,000 tonnes of fruit and veg.
62% of customers believe joining Oddbox has helped them prioritise taking action on food waste. 56% of customers said they waste a bit or a lot less food in their household since joining Oddbox.
We have established partnerships with amazing charities to re-distribute our surplus - At the end of every week, we donate our leftover produce to FareShare, who redistribute food to charitable organisations. We also donate customer boxes to CityHarvest in London, and KIND in Liverpool.
4. How does food waste contribute to climate change?
Growing food creates greenhouse gas emissions both directly – through fuel used for agricultural machinery, methane produced (famously) by cows, and packaging and transportation – and indirectly due to the loss of carbon sinks, like forests and grasslands, to create land for crops and grazing. Plus, when unwanted food breaks down, it emits the potent greenhouse gas methane.
So wasting food means a lot of emissions, and unnecessary ones at that. Food waste is estimated to account for a whopping 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions – twice as many as car exhausts create each year across the US and Europe.
The same is true of the water that feeds the crops and livestock that are farmed but never eaten. Wasted food uses 760km³ of water every year – enough to fill 304,000,000 Olympic swimming pools. With the world’s rivers drying up and more than half its wetlands already gone, water is a resource that ecosystems can’t afford to lose. By using up water and, critically, inefficiently replacing wild lands with monocultures, food waste also damages biodiversity.
5. Food waste is a huge climate issue, with around 1.2 billion tonnes of food wasted on farms each year, and an estimated 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions coming from food waste alone. What are some of the biggest challenges today when it comes to food waste?
There are both industry-level and consumer-level challenges.
At an industry level, farms often produce more than the market demands, leading to surplus. Strict cosmetic standards set by retailers result in the rejection of imperfect produce.
From a consumer standpoint, there is more work to be done on educating customers about the benefits of choosing "imperfect" produce.
Also, more than 50% of food waste is generated in our homes. So there is a need to educate ourselves about “natural resources loss” and its impact on climate change beyond just “financial” loss.
6. What innovations or solutions are required to combat food waste globally?
- Standardising date labelling to reduce confusion and premature discarding of still-edible items.
- Government policy changes that introduce regulations encouraging businesses to report (e.g. mandatory food waste reporting) on and donate surplus food.
- Encouraging the reuse of food by-products and waste in creating new products or as ingredients in other industries.
- Promoting composting and bioenergy generation from organic waste.
- On an individual level, encouraging people to shift to a primarily plant-based diet.
7. The fight against waste can sometimes feel overwhelming. What are some positive changes our community can make today to help fight against food waste?
- Plan ahead - Plan your meals for the week making sure to use up your leftovers.
- Keep an eye on use-by-dates (use your judgement when it comes to best-before-dates) to make sure that you aren’t letting good food go to waste.
- Batch cook and freeze meals for later. Or just freeze your fruit and veg to keep them fresh for longer and have ingredients ready to go for smoothies, soups and stews.
- Use preservation techniques like fermenting and pickling to keep food for longer.
- Only buy what you need.
- Use services like Oddbox, Olio and Too Good to Go to rescue food that may otherwise go to waste
8. It's the start of a new year - what does Oddbox have planned for 2024 and beyond?
We want to make it easier for people to fight food waste. We want to offer convenience through more choice - allowing people to customise their box and increasing the choice that they have by offering products beyond fruit and veg as well as our own branded products (such as Oddbox-branded cooking pastes)
Get 50% off your first Oddbox
Did you know that around 40% of food produced globally goes to waste? Our friends at Oddbox rescue the “too odd” and “too many” direct from growers and deliver to your door. So you can eat fresh and help make a difference to the planet at the same time.
Join the rescue mission with 50% off your first box with the code BEEN50
Enter code at checkout at Oddbox.co.uk. Offer valid for new Oddbox customers only. BEEN50 will give new Oddbox customers 50% off their first box. Offer excludes XS fruit & veg, fruit booster and add ons. Offer expires 31st March, 2024.