• 10 October 2018

Milly Bowen, our budding food waste hero

Milly Bowen, an Environmental Consultant in our London office, has been using the food sharing platform, OLIO, to help prevent surplus food being thrown away. Here she tells us how she got involved and what we can do to join the food waste fight.

We all know that food waste is a massive problem. A staggering proportion of the food produced globally (over a third) goes to waste, and if it was a country it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. In the face of such overwhelming odds, I discovered a brilliant way to share food with local Londoners, saving it from the bin.

It all started about two years ago when I spotted some flyers on my way into work. I remember them catching my eye because of the slightly unusual things they were stuck to – such as bicycle stands and over buttons for pedestrian crossings. The word “FOOD” also grabbed my attention! The flyers were advertising OLIO’s app which connects neighbours with each other and local shops, so they can share surplus food.

This kind of waste has been one of my ultimate pet hates, which probably stems from the way I was brought up. My parents would always make the most of our scraps, either using them to make soup, putting them in the compost heap, or feeding them to the rabbit. It wasn’t until I started catering as a student that I realised just how much we wasted – I’d watch in horror as bags and bags of food were thrown out at the end of each day, sometimes enough to fill a skip! We were never allowed to touch it either, even though it was perfectly good, which further added fuel to my fire. It’s crazy to think how much gets wasted when there are so many people in need, and this is where OLIO comes in.

I downloaded the app (it’s free to join, just create an account) and was instantly hooked. There were loads of people sharing all kinds of things, from a single fudge chocolate from a Cadbury’s Milk Tray (it seems people can’t stand the fudge ones) to bags full of fresh salads and sandwiches from local cafes. I began requesting some of the more tempting items and was soon walking all over London collecting a variety of delicious foods. I was a little tentative at first, as one should be when arranging meetings with strangers, but everyone I met was so kind my reservations soon dwindled away. I became friendly with a nice lady from my area who picked up food from a café in Victoria and she’d regularly drop off a few things at my house on her way home. It wasn’t long before I decided to join in and become a local ‘distributor’ myself.

Now, I’m collecting food from three cafes local to the London Bridge / Borough area. I go to each one just after they close and collect anything they’ve not been able to sell during the day, which typically includes; mushroom, cheese, beef, duck, and ham sandwiches (some with homemade bread), falafel wraps, spinach rolls, salads, soups, croissants, and cakes. I then list whatever I’ve collected on OLIO and wait for someone to arrange a collection – it’s usually all gone in a couple of hours!

On days when I collect a particularly large amount of food (which can be up to five or six bags full), I take it to The Manna Society which is a day centre for homeless people near our London office.

Although I am helping to save quite a lot from being wasted, there is still so much more that can be done – you just have to wander through Borough Market at the end of the day to see huge quantities of perfectly good produce being stuffed into bin bags and presumably going to waste. I am passionate about diverting as much food from the bin as possible and am always on the lookout for ways to get more people and businesses involved.

Milly Bowen

If you have any questions or want to get involved, contact Milly.

You can also learn more by visiting the websites for OLIO and The Manna Society.

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