The natural world doesn’t do waste. We shouldn’t have to either

Women ‘wastepreneurs’ are finding clever ways to create a healthy food ecosystem

The post-war industrialisation of our food system has been an enormous human achievement. We have been able to make vast quantities of food by transforming traditional small mixed farms into food factories that produce one thing cheaply and at scale. But our food system is a living system and the costs of its industrialisation are vast and terrifying. Industrialised agricultural production over the past 50 years has depleted soils, over-nourished waterways, devastated the natural world and created an incubation system for illness and disease.

Our food system is both a massive problem and a massive fix. Healthy soils can sequester carbon, produce delicious food, empower local economies and create satisfying work and opportunities for small connected businesses. At this hinge moment, the food system is both highly-functioning and deeply broken. But can we waste time following the fossil fuel script of shifting responsibility on to the shoulders of consumers? System change, subsidy shifts and regulation are all needed to transform food production to a regenerative model that will be fit for the future.

In the meantime roughly one third of all food we buy is wasted, partly because we don't see it as precious. A generation of women-dominated businesses has evolved to tackle that. Queens of the "wastepreneurs" Aoibheann O'Brien and Iseult Ward created Food Cloud to link surplus food to people who needed it. Food Cloud has ensured that millions of meals do not go to waste.

Another all-female duo are behind Olio, Tessa Clarke grew up on a Yorkshire dairy farm and knew first hand the back-breaking work that goes into making food. Along with her co-founder Saasha Celestial-One (the "daughter of Iowa hippy entrepreneurs") they have created a food sharing app called Olio. In my neighbourhood in Dublin there are almost 5,000 users, sharing everything from kombucha scobies to leftover iceberg lettuce and Barry's tea.


The newest food wastepreneurs are siblings Niamh and Ruairi Dooley who have launched BiaSol super milled grains made from spent grains of their local micro breweries,

Chef Giselle Makinde is based in Portmarnock in north Dublin where she makes spectacular Cream of the Crop gelato,, with leftover food from growers and producers. Her vegan strawberry gelato combines oat milk with what she calls "rescued surplus" and is her son's favourite, even though he is not vegan. She connects with other nimble small producers, like Harry's Nut Butter, to give their surpluses a gorgeous end.

The natural world doesn’t do waste. Everything is recycled back into the system because that’s what keeps a system thriving. A healthy food ecosystem is a circular economy, an abundant flow that benefits us all.

Catherine Cleary is co-founder of Pocket Forests.