Donny Chien talks quickly, like a pot of water on a rolling boil. The Sydney co-founder of Y Waste has been busy in the pandemic, finding more ways to use his app to connect those who are hungry with hospitality businesses who have surplus food.
Y Waste was founded in 2017 as a way to help restaurants, takeaway shops and cafes across the country reduce food waste. “A third of food produced in retail goes in the bin simply because it’s unsold at the end of the day. That’s a lot of food being wasted,” he tells Broadsheet, adding that nearly to 100,000 people have already downloaded the app and about 60,000 meals have been saved from the bin. In Melbourne and Sydney there are close to 600 eateries offering up food on the Y Waste app, plus a handful of others in Perth, the Gold Coast and Adelaide, as well as in New Zealand.
Business owners with excess food use the Y Waste platform to send out push notifications letting users know they’re now selling it for a reduced price – up to 80 per cent off sometimes. So, you can get a gourmet pie from The Pie Tin in Newtown for $2.90, or a salad and chargrilled chicken with a side of toum for $6 from Oricco Chicken in Dulwich Hill. In Dulwich Hill, Rosa Cienfuegos is doing three mystery tacos for $10, in Petersham you can get $10 meals from Sharon Kwan, and the CBD has stacks of venues involved.
But during the pandemic the Y Waste app has been even more useful, helping new businesses to cope with disrupted supply chains. GogoVego is a premium vegan pasta maker that supplies restaurants and Harris Farms. “As soon as covid happened, he had all this stock that would have gone to waste. He’s been using Y Waste and delivering pasta directly to customers,” Chien says.
“People want restaurant-quality food because they’re cooking at home. And they want to help small businesses, but they don’t know how. This is how.” The app also has a donation function so users can donate money and food to help people experiencing food insecurity. You can round up the cost of your purchase and donate the difference, give money or pre-buy someone a meal. Restaurants can also donate meals. With close to one million Australians unemployed in the fallout from coronavirus lockdown, and many wondering where their next meal will come from, technology like Y Waste can do a lot of good.
“A third of food charities are closed right now, and there are people going hungry, especially those who don’t qualify for government support,” Chien says.
For people in need, Y Waste has partnered with food charity Foodbank, and because transactions on Y Waste stay within the app, asking for help can be done discreetly. “[Foodbank] gives them a code to use in the app. Then they go through the same process as anyone else using the app; they search for food near them, use their code to reserve a portion and pick up the meal or have it delivered by one of our pool of volunteer delivery drivers. The app streamlines everything and also takes away the stigma of seeking out free food.”
Y Waste is doing well managing the logistics of donating food. In the last two weeks, 2500 meals have been delivered through the donation platform in Sydney and Melbourne, and Chien says another 2000 deliveries are already booked for next week.
Chien calls himself a “food waste warrior” and his passion for helping people is obvious as he relates stories of restaurant owners and app users he’s spoken to over the years.
He mentions the CBD bakery in Melbourne that offers a deal for 10 pies for $10 on Y Waste – normally $30. He knows someone who became homeless after losing his job and survives on that $10 bag of pastries each day. “I’m in a different city from this young man, but with technology I can make a difference in his life,” Chien says.
Y Waste’s donation platform is also used by organisations in Indonesia, Colombia, Singapore and Chien hopes to keep expanding. “I want to take Y Waste back to Taiwan. My father lost his parents when he was four, and he suffered from food insecurity, so I grew up learning never to waste food.
“My parents might not express much of an opinion about what I do, but I feel I’ve done my part to honour the values they instilled in me, and I hope I can make them proud.”