Eat Trash, Save the Planet

Fighting food waste locally via Too Good to Go

The contents of a $5.99 surprise bag from Little Ola's Biscuits (photos by Melanie Haupt)

Who amongst us hasn't eyeballed a perfectly good donut in the trash and seriously contemplated eating it à la George Costanza? Yet tons of perfectly edible food gets tossed every day.

Food waste in its final form becomes methane gas, which is why Austin offers citywide composting. By providing cans and curbside pickup, the city can convert food scraps into nutrient-rich soil instead of letting them off-gas in our already bursting landfills. Simply put, unchecked food waste is terrible for the environment.

It's also terrible for our wallets. A 2020 study by researchers at Penn State University found that American households waste approximately 30% of the food they buy. The study, published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, suggests that this is equivalent to $2,000 per family. Think about what you can do with $2,000 diverted from the trash can, especially considering that grocery prices went up 11% between January 2022 and January 2023.

One way to attack the food waste problem while also reducing your food bills is to search locally for businesses that sell their end-of-day offerings at a deep discount, instead of tossing them, via the app Too Good to Go ( The international app was designed to connect consumers with any local business that sells food, and it maintains a running count of how much food they've saved the way a water fountain measures how many bottles have been saved from a landfill.

Sarah Soteroff, a rep from TGTG, says, "We want businesses to have an avenue to recoup the money they may be throwing out. If you are throwing out $300 every week, you can reduce that amount. Inflation prices are hitting food so hard, which in turn are hitting businesses. [TGTG] is giving them flexibility to meet that unpredictability."

This $5.99 surprise bag from Tiff's Treats contained 13 cookies

What benefits bakeries and restaurants (being able to sell food they'd otherwise toss) is naturally a boon to consumers looking to lower their food bill. I am an avowed cheapskate with a hollow leg but am reluctant to dumpster dive, so I was preternaturally thrilled to search the app for bakeries less than 5 miles from my house and spring for a surprise bag starting from $3.99. My first pickup was at my local Tiff's Treats: an assortment of a dozen-ish cookies for $5.99.

Then I picked up a surprise bag at Ovenbird, a charming cafe with a serious coffee program and many in-house baked goods. When I stopped in, the pastry counter was almost empty, save for two treats and a fistful of cookies. The fellow at the counter cheerfully piled everything into a box for me, noting that the cookies were his faves. They were pillowy gingerbread, topped with a snowy-looking sweet glaze, and memorably delicious. I considered this a steal, and these were also items I may not have tried but for the "mystery" element. Same for La Pâtisserie, where I was handed a box containing a luscious pecan roll, a pain au chocolat, and an almond croissant, all gorgeous and elegant. I picked up multiple times from Casper Fermentables because I loved the sourdough loaves, bagels, and delicious cookies I randomly scored. Each pickup was smooth and easy, and it's all done through the app.

The app relies on social media to help recruit new users. Users post their TGTG hauls on TikTok, Instagram, and on Reddit (r/toogoodtogo; be prepared to be jealous of European hauls). Participating Austin restaurants include Hey Cupcake!, Bouldin Creek Cafe, Jo's Coffee, and Honest Mary's, among many others. There are also national chains like Shipley's Donuts and 7-Eleven on the app, and some outfits offer groceries and ingredients. It's all good, because it wouldn't benefit the businesses to sell you something that isn't edible.

“We want businesses to have an avenue to recoup the money they may be throwing out.”   – Sarah Soteroff, Too Good to Go

So why can't/don't businesses give all this good food to people in need, rather than sell it (or toss it)? Ben Hollander, owner/operator of Casper Fermentables, explains it all. "It's cheaper and less work to throw away the leftovers rather than pay someone to package them into individual portions and deliver them to specific people." There are laws protecting people who donate food from being sued, in case a person who consumed the food became ill or worse. The Good Faith Donor Act was enacted in Texas, and the federal Emerson Good Samaritan Food Act followed. Even the National Restaurant Association created a helpful, seven-step guide for restaurateurs ( who want to donate any leftovers they may have, and Step 1 is "find an organization in your community to partner with." Logistics for starting a donation program are on the owner. Anyone want to start coding for that app?

Hollander continued: "[Casper Fermentables] would rather not throw away our leftover breads but we also don't have the resources to find people in need, individually package the food, and coordinate delivery or pickup with them for free." They don't want to sell out and disappoint their customers, but giving away remainders to people is work.

Here's how the financials break down: For instance, TGTG sells a surprise bag containing $15 of goods to the public for $5, and takes $1.80 of that sale as a service fee. The business gets $3.20 from the sale of that bag. There is also an annual fee of $89 to use the service, deducted from quarterly payouts. This, said Hollander, is enough of an incentive to spend time bagging up individual orders and overseeing the pickups.

Individual consumers can't solve the food waste problem in the United States. No one said you have to celebrate Earth Day, but should you choose to adopt anti-waste lifestyle methods while also keeping your food costs low, try rescuing some food before it reaches the dumpster, in the name of saving the planet.

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