Social and Environmental Analysis of Food Waste Abatement via the Peer-to-Peer Sharing Economy
Professor of Industrial Environmental Management, Yale School of the Environment
Assistant Professor, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Core Fellow/Visiting Assistant Professor in Environmental Studies, Boston College
Environmental scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University
Sharing economy platforms are commonly thought of as “greener” than conventional markets since they are assumed to facilitate the more efficient redistribution of already-existing assets and resources. However, some question these claims and argue that the benefits from sharing models are unclear or environmentally and socially detrimental. Despite the growing interest in the emergence of sharing economy platforms across multiple industry sectors, very little is known about the structure and evolution of sharing networks made up of users, interactions, and transactions, as well as the roles that individual users play within these networks over time. These knowledge gaps severely limit our ability to understand the environmental and economic effects that sharing in all its myriad forms is having, much less to suggest pathways for improvement.
One type of sharing economy platform that has received relatively little scholarly attention — but for which there is tremendous potential application — is that of food sharing. In this research project, the goal was to generate insights into the nature and dynamics of the sharing economy through a deep dive into a real-world food sharing network. Relying on a comprehensive dataset provided by OLIO, a UK-based peer-to-peer food-sharing platform, the researchers used methods such as social network analysis, machine learning, regression analysis, and consumer surveys to shed light on questions such as: (1) to what extent can the sharing economy reduce food waste and contribute to the efficient sharing of food? (2) What are the key drivers and underlying structures to successful sharing transactions and networks? (3) How do sharing networks emerge in new locations and evolve over time?
Data for this research was provided by the non-profit, UK-based food sharing platform OLIO. The research results provide a better understanding of the role the sharing economy can play in addressing sustainability challenges such as food waste, and help guide the future development of other sharing economy platforms toward maximizing environmental and social benefits.