Tackling food waste with technology
With CAs playing a growing role in the push for sustainability, Co-founder and Co-CEO of food waste app Kitche Lynsey Scott explains why tackling food waste helps to protect the environment
Kitche co-founder Lynsey Scott knows her numbers – and they’re sobering to hear. “If we were to collect all the edible food-and-drink waste over a year in the UK alone it would amount to 4.5 million tonnes – that’s eight Wembley Stadiums,” she says.
“Food waste is an environmental disaster but only 32% of people in the UK recognise this link [according to a 2020 survey for climate action NGO, Wrap],” Scott continues. “So many people don’t understand the scale of the problem and the effect food waste has on our climate and environment – I didn’t. But when we waste food we also waste the land, labour, water and love that has been used to grow, transport and store that food. Food waste that ends up as landfill is very harmful to our environment, releasing huge amounts of methane and CO2, as well as toxic chemicals that leach into groundwater. And, of course, we are wasting money.”
As soaring supermarket inflation and the ongoing cost-of-living crisis sees many Britons searching for ways to save money on food costs, whether it’s using food banks to offset the squeeze or embracing “freeganism” (consuming food that has been discarded, particularly by shops), there is one instant saving they could be making at home. Every year the average UK family throws away hundreds of pounds’ worth of fresh produce because it has gone mouldy, soft or out of date. The environmental impact of this waste isn’t insignificant either: one third of the world’s food is discarded every year according to a 2011 UN study. Once this rotting waste ends up in landfill, it releases greenhouse gases such as methane into the atmosphere, making it one of the largest CO2 emitters in the world. And around 70% of this waste mountain comes from households.
Reducing these numbers to help both the planet and household finances is Scott’s mission. She launched the UK’s number one home food waste app, Kitche, in 2019 with friend Alex Vlassopulos. The problem is getting worse, she says: “Food waste increased after the last national lockdown was lifted. We need to get back to basics with food [to understand] how it nurtures us.”
The way Kitche works is simple: the free app makes it easy for people to import food data multiple ways, from typing to scanning barcodes or supermarket receipts, providing users with an inventory of what they’ve just bought. From there, the app dishes out recipes, hacks and tips for the use of food at home, even those products lurking at the back of the fridge or cupboard (the main reason for food waste is because people “don’t know what to cook” according to Censuswide research), as well as sending notifications when food needs to be eaten or frozen.
The app’s lively mix of thousands of recipes and food hacks (everything from making stock using carrot peelings to preserving avocados in water) has proved popular – so far Kitche has been downloaded more than 50,000 times, while 20,000 people have signed up for the monthly email newsletter.
How much does the UK throw away every day?
- 70% of food waste is from households
- 3.1 million glasses of milk
- 3.1 million slices of cheese
- 1.2 million tomatoes
- 900 thousand whole bananas
- 20 million slices of bread
With accountants set to play a frontline role in sustainability auditing, Kitche’s work could provide an invaluable blueprint for CAs. Over the past year, Kitche has joined forces with the UK government and several county councils, using the app’s data to help drive behavioural change in citizens.
“For councils, food waste costs millions every year,” says Scott. “By using our data, they can see what’s going on, and what people are wasting where, as well as using Kitche as a modern marketing tool to help people learn how to reduce their waste. Our aim is to help reduce councils’ cost of removing and disposing of food waste, as well as reducing the cost of food waste for people at home.”
Being economical with household costs is second nature for Scott. Growing up in 1980s Staffordshire, she says, “subliminally, not wasting anything and a positive make-do and not-be-wasteful attitude has always been there. Our fridge was always full of reduced food. Like many kids, if our jeans ripped, we’d wear a patch rather than buying a new pair.” She remembers a regular family activity of opening unlabelled tins from the reduced section, trying to ascertain whether the brown splodge inside was “pet food or meatballs” with surprising fondness.
After graduating with an advertising degree, Scott worked for more than 15 years in advertising, moving her way up from Art Director to Creative Director for agencies including Saatchi and Saatchi, with such household names as Burger King, Durex and Lemsip as clients. In 2009 she launched an organic T-shirt business, Eco Boutique, but it wasn’t until she was on maternity leave with her first child that Scott decided to make a purpose-driven business her life’s work.
“I remember sitting on the sofa feeling an overwhelming responsibility for my child,” she recalls. “I was thinking, ‘Our planet is our future home and it’s being destroyed. I must try to fix this.’” But how? A few weeks later Scott was walking in the park with her friend Vlassopulos. They discussed the difficulties of balancing busy careers with cooking for a family and ensuring no food was discarded unnecessarily. To their surprise, no app existed to help families with food waste. The idea for Kitche was born.
Today, Scott looks after Kitche’s consumer side – everything from the brand, design and marketing to the practicalities of building a community of users – while Vlassopulos manages sales, B2B and partnerships. Kitche has a growing team, including Letitia Rohaise, Head of Impact and a behavioural change expert, and “Chef” Dan Batten, who is Executive Teaching Chef at Google.
Kitche has raised more than £500,000, including the proceeds of a recent crowdfunder. Media coverage has been extensive: Channel 5’s The Gadget Show, the Guardian, Sun and Daily Mirror. In some areas, such as Buckinghamshire, you’ll find Kitche branding emblazoned on the side of refuse trucks and wheelie bins.
Scott feels proud her business is helping families during the cost-of-living crisis, citing the mother who recently contacted her to thank Kitche for a recipe which taught her how to make tasty meals from edible bread crusts and loaf-ends. Food education is important to Kitche: its Mini Food Waste Warrior campaign aims to teach kids via games and an activity pack.
In January, Kitche was relaunched with a raft of new features, including the ability to add food products by voice and barcodes; the Explore section, full of hacks and tips; a community area; and a new impact section, where users can track food waste and see how much water, CO2, money and food they are wasting.
The next stage of Kitche’s growing operation is working with supermarkets, which every year waste 200,000 tonnes of own-brand food fit for human consumption, according to research by sustainability group Anthesis.
“Many supermarkets don’t know what happens to their food once it leaves their stores,” says Scott. “We can provide that information through Kitche data. It could tell them that they shouldn’t be running offers on bananas, or that shoppers are buying their veg from a rival supermarket.”
She concludes: “It’s encouraging to know that Kitche is making a positive impact. We’re putting money back into people’s pockets and helping the planet – it’s the thing that gets me up every day.”
Visit the ICAS sustainability hub for more resources