Three years ago, former college roommates Dan Newman and Bryan Summersett experienced a common problem. Newman was visiting Summersett in Seattle and the two had ordered too much pizza but didn’t want to waste what they considered to be “good food.”
Their solution: a leftover-swapping smartphone app, which has earned Summerset and Newman (who now also lives in Seattle) attention from news outlets like NPR, CNN, and Huffington Post. The app, Leftover Swap, allows people with extra food to swap or donate their meal to someone else in the same geographical area. It launches later this month.
Snap a picture of food you no longer want, post it onto the app’s database listing, and wait for someone to place dibs on your meal. “There are two parts to this: There are people who have excess food and are looking to reduce waste, and there are people who are looking to eat, in general,” Newman says.
The app will be free, which means that Newman, a freelance writer, and Summersett, a software engineer at Amazon are likely to make little profit, but they’re most excited to see how people will use it to reduce food waste by diverting leftovers in the direction of someone hungry rather than a garbage or compost bin. If Leftover Swap proves successful, Newman and Summersett hope to bring their idea online on a food-swapping website, thus reaching beyond the narrow swath of people who are both in need of a meal, and have smartphones at the ready.
Newman and Summersett will be beta-testing the app in Seattle and a few other markets with high-density populations and a prevalent food culture. If you’re chuckling to yourself over how well this app may fit with Seattle’s culture, you're probably not alone. “Seattle is a highly forward thinking city, both in technology and its willingness to accept new ideas,” Summersett says. And don’t forget, three Seattle restaurants just made Bon Appetit’s list of 50 best new restaurants of 2013, proof that love of food runs high in this town.
While their app certainly can’t completely eliminate the near 40 percent of food discarded every year, Newman and Summersett are hoping to be part of a wider dialogue towards people’s attitudes surrounding food waste. By targeting the end of the food energy chain, namely restaurant food, where high levels of energy and resources are spent to create prepared food. “If we change people’s thoughts around leftovers, it tangentially targets a lot of other environmentally positive practices,” Newman says.
Though swapping spit with strangers may not be appealing for some people, Summerset and Newman are encouraging users to use common sense. “Don’t give leftovers that you wouldn’t eat yourself,” Summersett says. “It’s not for everyone, but for those willing to try there’s an opportunity for major change.”