Preventing Food Waste Whilst Making The World A Better Place: An Evening With Foodcloud

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We're all guilty of food waste in some shape or form.

Maybe your eyes are bigger than your stomach, and you order far too much food when eating out. Or perhaps you do a big shop at the start of the week filled with perishables that you inevitably end up binning.

Either way, there's a good bit of food that goes to waste on a daily basis - at home, in the office, in restaurants and in supermarkets - and according to research, around 1 million tonnes of food goes to waster annually in Ireland.

Thankfully there are bright minds out there thinking about the sustainability of food waste, and how to address the problem. Foodcloud is an amazing initiative set up by two students from Trinity College Dublin, Iseult Ward and Aoibheann and O'Brien in 2013. They link supermarkets up with charities, meaning that food that would have otherwise ended up in the bin, is brought to those in need.

While it started on a small scale, linking us with Tesco stores in Dublin the project has now grown exponentially. Foodcloud now operates in 25 counties across the country, and employs 6 full-time staff as well 2 part-time staff, donating two tonnes of food every night. The only night of the year they don't run the service is Christmas Day, purely because there are no shops open to provide the food.

In rural areas, shops and charities liaise together through the Foodcloud messaging system. However, in Dublin there is a service called the Food Rescue Project, and I went volunteering as a 'navigator' with that project last Wednesday night.

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Myself and Iseult met at their offices in Grand Canal Dock at 7.45pm, where I was handed a clipboard with our planned route before hitting the road in the ESB Foodcloud mobile. It was my first time in an electric car, and I couldn't get over how quiet it was - seeming to glide along the streets without making a sound. Iseult explained in the car that it was financially beneficial for supermarkets to donate their food to Foodcloud, as food disposal services fees were so high. So supermarkets were happy to partake as they were paying less to get rid of unwanted food whilst also doing a good turn.

Our first stop was Tesco Dundrum where we parked as close as possible to the entrance and headed on in. When we mentioned we were here to pick up the Foodcloud donation, we were eagerly greeted before being brought to the back of the store and out to the storage facility. There four boxes of food sat waiting for us; mot only was there a ton of bread, cakes and donuts but there was also a whole tray of meats, and another filled with fruit and vegetables.

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After loading up the car, we headed on to our next stop - Tesco Nutgrove. Here again we received the same warm reception, and staff were more than happy to help us out. Motioning to a box full of cakes we were told "Oh you can take those as well if you want", an offer which we gladly accepted. Iseult explained that you never know what food you can get, and that charities are grateful for all donations so generally one should always say yes when offered extras.

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We then hit the road heading to a charity on Cuffe Street to deliver all the goods we had collected. We were in and out in ten minutes, after dropping all the boxes - the volunteer who let us in who explained that he had invited families down to pick up in half an hour's time.

The Food Rescue Project exists because generally inner city charities don't have access to vehicles to go collect the food, so it works as a delivery service for them. Servicing three charities across the city - two of which allow families to take their pick up any food they want when a delivery comes in, and another that uses the food to cook meals and feed hundreds every day. It's an amazing service, and the sheer scale of the project is seriously impressive.

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We then went on to our final destination, where we plugged in the car to charge overnight before hopping on our bikes and heading home. Volunteering with the Food Rescue Project only took a couple of hours out of my evening, but I was thinking about it for days after - how had it taken so long for someone to have this eureka moment about our food waste?

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For anyone who wants to give something back to the community, this is as nice as volunteering gets; zooming around Dublin in a little electronic car, saving the environment one ton of food at a time and really making a difference to people's day-to-day lives.

Take a few hours out of your evening some week to volunteer with Foodcloud, and I promise you'll find yourself signing up to do it on a weekly basis. They currently have 57 volunteers, but they are always on the look for both drivers and navigators so get in touch with them through their website. Similarly if you're a business that wants to donate food, they're always happy to hear from you too.

Foodcloud are doing amazing work in Dublin and across the country, and we could all do with taking a leaf out of their book when it comes to food waste..

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