"We handmake all our products and over the years we have been able to judge how much we need to make," said Philippa Van Welie, head of marketing at KC Peaches, which operates four cafes in Dublin city, as well as a sizable catering operation.
"But because it is fresh every day, of course we have food waste – and that never sat well with us."
It's a problem that businesses across the entire food industry face.
According to a recent report by the Environmental Protection Agency, 203,000 tonnes of food was dumped by restaurants and foodservice firms in 2019.
Retailers wasted a further 100,000, while households lost around 250,000 tonnes.
When waste from food processing and manufacturing firms is included, the total amount of food wasted in Ireland in the year doubled to around 1.1 million tonnes.
And the situation has probably become worse since then.
"When Covid hit, that threw everything out of the window," said Philippa, with the sudden exodus from offices and university campuses upending the demand a cafe and caterer would expect. "We were suddenly making decisions saying that we have to put less out, not just from an environmental perspective but a financial one too."
Neither companies nor consumers set out to waste food – after all, doing so is effectively the same as dumping money.
The EPA estimates that the average household wasted roughly €700 worth of food in 2019.
For companies, the price of dumped food isn’t just about the money spent on produce – there is also likely to be transport and labour costs baked in to each lost portion. And businesses also face disposal charges on anything they have to bin.
But there is a significant environmental – and ethical – cost too.
According to the UN, roughly one-third of food goes uneaten globally each year. That represents 1.3 billion tonnes of waste; many multiples of the amount it would take to feed the world’s hungry.
Creating that much wasted food requires a landmass roughly the size of China, with immeasurable amounts of water going into its production and billions of tonnes of greenhouse emissions coming out.
"If [food waste] were to be a country, it would the world’s third largest emitter behind the US and China," said Tessa Clarke, co-founder and CEO of food sharing app Olio. "One quarter of humanity’s fresh water is used to produce this wasted food. "Then it goes on this crazy, long supply chain... and then when food decomposes without oxygen, as it does in landfill, it produces methane, which is 25 times more deadly than Co2."
Globally, food waste represents around 8-10% of all emissions.
In Ireland, the EPA estimates that food waste represents 3.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent each year – around 6.2% of the country’s total emissions.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals aims to have retail and consumer food waste halved by 2030. Getting there will be incredibly difficult, but businesses here are now getting access to new tools to help them play their part.
"We wanted to find a way to stop tonnes of perfectly good food from being thrown in the bin every day," says Jamie Crummie, co-founder of Too Good To Go. "We’re all about making it as easy as possible for businesses and for customers."
Too Good To Go is a Denmark-based company which first launched its app in 2015.
It allows retailers, cafes, and restaurants to sell leftover food at a steep discount via a smartphone app. In doing so businesses can recoup their costs, while consumers can bag a bargain – with both helping to keep perfectly good food out of the bin.
Food is sold as a 'surprise bag’, meaning buyers don’t know what they’re going to get. The only requirement is that the food is sold at no more than one third of its value, and it has not passed its ‘use by’ date (though it may be beyond its ‘best before’).
"We call it a triple win," says Jamie.
Too Good To Go’s global partners include Carrefour, Hilton, and Lidl.
It launched here late last year, with hundreds of Dublin-area retailers, cafes, and restaurants already on board. Next week, it will launch in Galway, with plans to expand to other towns and cities in the coming months.
KC Peaches has been using Too Good To Go since its Irish debut and has been extremely happy with its results so far.
"Every now and again a solution comes up and it’s a no-brainer, it’s a win-win for everybody," said Philippa. "We spoke with them really briefly and we signed up straight away.
"We were their first partner in Ireland to hit 1,000 bags. The partnership has been really successful, and we do see it as a partnership."
She said that they had previously tried to work with charities to pass on its excess food but a number of factors – from the unpredictability of what was left to the rules charities must follow - made that difficult to work.
On the contrary, Phillipa says it was easy to get up and running on Too Good To Go, with orders from the app fitting in seamlessly alongside its regular business model.
"The guys, towards the end of the day, see what they have left over, they put together a €15-value bag and list it," she said. "The whole objective is, as a customer, you don’t know what you’re going to get. It could be a vegetable curry and a muffin. It could be random."
While the idea of selling food at a steep discount might make some firms worry that it will cannibalise normal sales, KC Peaches says it has seen no sign of that happening.
On the contrary it sees the app as a route for new customers to sample its food – while it also reduces the risk involved in trying out new menu items, the popularity of which can often be hard to predict.
Jamie from Too Good To Go is confident that the loss of regular sales isn’t a problem for its 1136,000 other partners around the world, either, as the timing and surprise nature of the orders makes it an unlikely replacement for a regular meal.
"I don’t know about you, but if I’m looking to get something for lunch, I’m not going to be able to wait for a few hours to see what’s available," says Jamie. "The fact that people don’t know what they’re going to get makes a difference too... it’s really more of an extra treat for many."
But while many consumers will jump at the chance to bag some cheap treats from a local cafe, the EPA data shows that the food many already have at home is a major contributor to the country’s waste.
Luckily, another app is offering a solution to this problem.
Olio is a British-based app that became available in Ireland in 2016 – however it has only recently begun to make a major push in the country.
It allows individuals to offer up surplus food to those in their area, meaning neighbours can pass on items rather than have them go to waste.
"It’s an app that connects you with your neighbours so you can give away, rather than throw away, household items," said Tessa Clarke of Olio.
Users can offer up non-food items to those nearby too, while it recently launched a feature that allows for the loaning out of household items, like tools, exercise equipment or appliances.
And while some may raise an eyebrow at the idea of knocking around to neighbours for their leftovers, Tessa says its users show no reluctance in engaging with the app.
"Half of all the food listings added to the app are requested within 21 minutes," according to Tessa. "Many people think ‘will anyone want my two out of date tins of soup, of broccoli or these three, random limes’, and the answer is a massive, resounding ‘yes’."
As part of the ramping up of its Irish presence, Olio recently launched a pilot with several Tesco stores here. This allows outlets to pass on excess food to Olio volunteers who, in turn, offer it up to their neighbours.
Like Too Good To Share, this food is still edible – if not fresh. It is also only made of up of what is not taken by charities via Tesco’s partnership with FoodCloud.
Both Tesco and Olio are positive about how the pilot programme has gone so far – with Olio also in talks with other retailers about similar programmes elsewhere.
"Any business that is generating food waste knows that it is not going to hit its sustainability targets unless it stops throwing away food because it’s so carbon intensive," she says.
"We provide full end-to-end traceability in terms of where that food goes and we can provide the impact data back; so we can tell them how many people were fed with that food, how much emissions were saved and how much water was saved."
The scale of the food waste problem in Ireland – and the world – means that dramatic changes will be required at every level of the industry; from farm all the way to the fridge.
Some of that will simply require a reduction in the amount of food that is created in the first place, while producers will also need to tackle the amount of waste they create.
But in terms of redistributing what is made and diverting it away from the bin and towards a willing consumer - technology like this may provide at least part of the solution.