Who wants my half eaten sandwich? Food waste in the digital sharing economy

Dr. Tamar Makov; Ben Gurion University

Reducing food waste is widely recognized as critical for improving resource efficiency and meeting the nutritional demand of a growing human population. Here we explore whether the sharing economy can provide meaningful assistance to reducing food waste in a relatively low-impact and environmentally-sound way. Analyzing 170,000 postings on a popular peer-to-peer food-sharing app, we find that over 19 months, 90t of food waste with an equivalent retail value of £0.7 million were collected by secondary consumers and diverted from disposal. An environmental analysis focused on Greater London reveals that these exchanges were responsible for avoiding emission of 87-156t of CO2-eq. These findings, together with the high collection rates (60% on average) suggest that the sharing economy may offer powerful means for improving resource efficiency and reducing food waste. However, since most exchanges were among users associated with lower income yet higher levels of education, cultural capital might be a prerequisite for successful participation in free P2P sharing economy networks, putting into question the degree to which the food insecure actually participate or benefit from such exchanges.