Every day, New Yorkers throw out 6.5 million pounds of food that eventually ends up in city landfills. In short, it’s a real waste.
But a start-up founded by North Brooklyn resident Margaret Tung, 25, and Jason Chen, 25, aims to reduce that number while hooking New York City residents up with tasty, inexpensive food. Their company, PareUp, alerts New Yorkers via social media which local restaurants and cafes with whom they’ve partnered are offering extra food for a reduced price at the end of the night.
“Food waste seemed to be a last frontier,” said Tung, who left her job as a food buyer for an e-commerce website last year. “Fewer people are innovating in an interesting way.”
PareUp sends out emails and tweets listing special deals every day, like 50 percent off bread at Settepani in Williamsburg from 6 to 9 p.m. Founders Tung and Chen, who met as undergraduates at Yale University, are also working with a web developer, Anuj Jhunjhunwala.
Inspiration for the project came from a more rural source: Sonoma start-up CropMobster, an online community food exchange that helps reduce waste on local farms.
With her team, Tung tried to adapt that idea to an urban environment by talking with food shops around the city about their waste habits. They learned that even though several organizations such as City Harvest and other food banks already pick up restaurant waste, there are restrictions that prohibit certain stores from participating. For instance, many food banks have a 50-pound minimum, making it difficult for smaller stores to stay sustainable.
“We want to compliment their behavior,” Tung explained. “We’re making it a consumer-based thing that can raise the issue in general and eliminate waste at one particular level.”
While some stores they’ve approached have been hesitant to give out food that’s of “lesser quality” than the fresh stuff, others like Williamsburg’s Oslo Coffee have wholeheartedly embraced the idea as an innovative way to get rid of unwanted waste.
“You know it’s going to be a little different,” Tung said. “That’s why you pay less for it.”
In the coming weeks, she hopes to expand the company’s base of users and put work into designing an app. They’ve started making their web presence more educational as well, offering resources for those who want to learn more about sustainable food.
That issue in particular has become an important one in New York. Just last year former Mayor Bloomberg issued a “Food Waste Challenge,” prompting 150 restaurants to vow to reduce their waste by half.
For now, many of PareUp’s deals are located in or around Williamsburg, mostly because it’s Tung’s neighborhood – and there are plenty of potentially deal-seeking freelancers around.
“I live here and have formed relationships with people,” she said. “It’s easier to show them I care about this.”