Ever eat a great meal and end up with leftovers you aren’t sure what to do with? Maybe you’re out on the town and don’t want to lug them around all night, or there’s no fridge in your hotel room for them, or you just want to pass them on to someone who’s hungry and could use them. Lots of cities have come up with their own informal methods for keeping leftovers out of the waste stream — like balancing boxes on top of trash cans in San Francisco — but finally, technology has come to the rescue with another option for managing leftovers.
Leftover Swap, set to launch very soon, will be a totally free app that people can use to make sure their leftovers will end up eaten, not trashed. Users snap a photo of their food and add it to a database, allowing other users to log in and claim the leftovers for themselves. If the pilot project proves a success, it will also be expanded to the web, so people can access Leftover Swap from public computers and similar resources, instead of having to use their phones.
This is remarkably similar to the foodsharing network set up in Germany where users log their dumpster finds and arrange real-life trades and swaps for things like bread, cheese, chocolate and more.
Both are fascinating in that they challenge traditional attitudes about food and food waste, encouraging members to get food into circulation rather than tossing it. They also raise awareness about the huge issue of worldwide food waste and the number of people going hungry in many major cities. As people start swapping leftovers and their dumpster diving finds, it puts pressure on municipalities to start rethinking the way they handle garbage, and the way they direct their residents to manage their waste.
These applications also create a sense of community by connecting people not just with their food, but with each other. That’s important in a world where people often feel disconnected from their neighborhoods and each other; people have to meet up to make the handoff, which creates a great opportunity for connections. I’m not saying anyone’s going to meet a future spouse (hey, it could happen), but swaps like these involve people with shared interests and could result in larger collaborations and resource exchanges. Maybe the graphic designer who picks up some scavenged bread from a tech worker will make a connection that results in building a website together, for example.
There are, of course, some flaws with Leftover Swap. One is the reliance on cellphones, and the slow rollout through various cellphone operating systems. Not everyone has a mobile phone, although they are growing more common among members of the homeless community as vital tools for networking, job searches and reaching out. Another is the potential difficulty of navigating swaps and getting leftovers from one person to another, which may not always be easy. And, as always when meeting strangers, there’s a safety risk involved, which is something the organization and its members will need to mitigate to make it a success.
Photo credit: Ginny.