OzHarvest Australia: Everything you need to know about food waste and rescue in Australia

The Yellow Army - OzHarvest fighting food waste

There is so much more to OzHarvest than saving food and preventing food waste. Help support Australia’s leading food rescue organisation and donate, volunteer or visit  their Kensington Market where you can “take what you need and give if you can”.

Where did it all start?

OzHarvest was started in 2004 by Ronni Kahn. Annika describes her as “our fearless leader” who identified food waste as a major issue when she ran her own high-end events company and noticed the huge volumes of food that was thrown away at the end of day. To combat this waste Ronni “with her single car at the end of the day would take all of the beautiful surplus food to the local charity”. This continued to happen until one day she realised “this is just exorbitant; this is just so much waste that I need to do something about this” and she did. The idea was that Ronni would “fix the issue of food waste, then come back to her events company”. Unfortunately, seventeen years on the “issue of food waste is still significant, and it’s such a systemic problem, that it’s not just a quick fix”. Ronni and her idea to solve food waste has turned into a national movement with OzHarvest working all over Australia.

Ronni founded Oz Harvest to tackle food waste
Ronni at Oz Harvest – credit Livia Giacomini

Food waste, how big is the problem?

Australia wastes 7.3 billion tonnes of food waste every year and that’s good quality edible food. It costs our economy about $20 billion a year, and it means Australia is actually one of the top ten most wasteful countries in the world. OzHarvest aims to halve food waste by 2030, and although the team has “done some really significant work in Australia’s food rescue model”, there is still so much more to do.

How does OzHarvest work?

According to Annika Stott, Sustainability Strategist , food rescue is at the very heart of everything OzHarvest does. The organisation consists of a fleet of vans on the road each day and around 3000 volunteers working all around the country. The yellow army as they are called, “are picking up, rescuing food from donors like cafes, restaurants, supermarkets… anywhere there is surplus good quality food. Our team pick it up and take it to local charities. We are direct, efficient and real time. We are all about making sure perishable, nutritious food gets to people in need as quickly as possible”. It is estimated that over 5 million Australians suffer from food insecurity each year the demand for services like OzHarvest has grown 47% since the pandemic.

The Yellow Army - OzHarvest fighting food waste
The Yellow Army – OzHarvest Food Rescue van

What are the impacts of OzHarvest?

It is hard to quantify the impact OzHarvest has, because giving food “to someone that doesn’t have food, that’s immeasurable”. As you may know yourself, “if you don’t have food in your stomach, there’s really not a lot you can do that day”. The human body uses energy it gets from food to function so without food the body just does not work right. OzHarvest plays a vital role in providing people with beautiful nourishing food. The people OzHarvest help come from all walks of life.  Annika says “There’s no one story that’s the same. There are so many people suffering from food insecurity, and you wouldn’t necessarily assume or pick that they were”.

According to Annika, the “face of hunger is hidden in Australia”. Just like other taboo subjects like mental health, food insecurity and food waste has been pushed to the back of our mind and not discussed as openly as it should be. Just like asking for help with a mental health issue, people are scared to come forward and ask for help with securing a meal. However, OzHarvest makes people feel comfortable and welcome and hopefully a little less scared. Numerous times Ronni has been pulled aside while walking down a street and thanked for providing nutritious food by a passer-by, “food means so much to people”.

OzHarvest Market
OzHarvest market – credit: Livia Giacomini

Although the emotional value cannot be measured, OzHarvest has measured the financial benefit. “For every $1 invested into us, OzHarvest was able to return $6.75 back to the community”. Although that is an amazing return on interest, Annika said it is so much more than that “being able to provide food to people with love, dignity and respect and food that’s nutritious and good quality, if you don’t have food that really is a big thing, and you cannot put a price on that.”

Four Pillars of OzHarvest

The mission that OzHarvest works towards is to “Nourish our Country” and this is  demonstrated in all of their actions. The organization is also driven by four pillars that direct all the work that they do and these include: rescue, educate, engage and innovate. This all  encompassing approach means that they can tackle food wastage from various angles and be  proactive in all of their measures. 

To Market we go

At this point you might be wondering what you can do to help OzHarvest and support its  charitable mission. Well if you live in or are visiting Sydney you can drop into the OzHarvest  Market, Australia’s first rescued food grocer. Upon arrival at the market you may be  surprised to find a great range of quality supermarket goods. The majority of items being  donated due to surplus stock and not from damage or being out of date. After looking around  and making your selections you simply take what you need and give what you can. There is  no screening process required, so customers in need are able to maintain their dignity. The  concept works and has been operating since 2017 as the market is as much for the vulnerable  community as it is community members wanting to support others. Therefore, if you find  yourself in Sydney and close to the cultural and arty suburb of Kensington, drop in for a shop  knowing that your dollar will be put towards a great cause! 

Anyone can shop at the market and it is based on a take what you need, give if you can model “. Annika said “there are some people that might want to make a donation, and that is really beautiful, because that comes back into our organization to help us and feed more people in need, and some people want to give that donation because it does show that they’re contributing, although you know it might be $5 or, you know $60 or $70 worth of food”. The OzHarvest Market allows people in any position to come and get nourishing food. 

OzHarvest Market - fighting food waste
OzHarvest market – credit: Livia Giacomini

Other ways to help OzHarvest and reduce food waste

If you have found inspiration in OzHarvest’s mission and want to contribute, they encourage  donations of time or money from individuals. Alternatively, if you are the owner of a  registered business you can donate food either immediately or on a regular basis.  

Aside from those mentioned above another way to support OzHarvest is to be a food wastage  fighter and advocate of the charity. This could involve sharing and liking their social media  posts, changing the way that you shop and think about food and encouraging others to do the  same. It may seem like a giant task to tackle the war on food wastage but if we all work  together who knows what we will be able to achieve.

Food waste: Annika’s top four food saving tips:

Reducing food waste is one of the most effective ways to help fight climate change and certainly the single most powerful thing you can do at home. Whilst there’s no silver bullet to tackle this global problem, there are many things we can be doing and it starts with getting into good habits. 

It starts with getting into good habits at home.  At OzHarvest we have an easy mantra to follow: Look.Buy.Store.Cook. 

  • Look what you already have before shopping
  • Buy only what you need
  • Store food correctly
  • Cook it all up and eat it all up before you buy more!

We are all part of the solution.

For more information visit ozharvest.org 

 1Food Bank Hunger Report 2020 <https://www.foodbank.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/FB-HR20.pdf>


Address: 147 Anzac Parade, Kensington NSW


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