At Kaibosh, other people’s leftovers never go to waste

by Sharon Stephenson / 09 August, 2017

Dr Robyn Langlands at Kaibosh’s Wellington headquarters – redistributing resources to those who need them most. Photo/ Nicola Edmonds

In 2013 North & South profiled Kaibosh, then NZ's first food rescue service. This year the organisation has partnered with KiwiHarvest and Unilever Food Solutions to create the Food Collective. Its aim is to encourage more operators within the food industry to reduce waste in commercial kitchens and redirect any surplus food to people in need. You can find out more at www.foodcollective.co.nz.


Rescue Remedy

To find Dr Robyn Langlands, you have to wade through mountains of cellophaned sandwiches, circumnavigate boxes of kumara and move aside bags of sliced white bread. This is the Wellington HQ of Kaibosh, New Zealand’s first food-rescue organisation.

It’s a simple concept: collect leftover perishable food from retailers, cafes and supermarkets, and redistribute it to charities who work with some of the capital’s most vulnerable. So simple, in fact, that Robyn and her husband, George, were amazed no one was doing it. 

“When we started in 2008, I knew food banks and charities needed food and that, at the same time, a lot of food was going to waste,” she says. “It didn’t make sense to throw food away when there were people going hungry, but no-one seemed to be connecting the dots.”   

Langlands, who’s now a clinical psychologist at Capital Coast Health, was juggling full-time study with volunteer work for Women’s Refuge when she took a call from Wishbone, a food retailer keen to donate food nudging its sell-by date. The one caveat was that charities collected and distributed the food themselves.

“None of the charities they called had the resources to pick up the food, so I drove down to collect it. I was amazed at how much there was, but stuck it in our fridge at home and the next day took it to Women’s Refuge.”

Langlands’ fridge ended up doing double duty for 18 months, storing perishables collected twice a week and distributed to a network of charities that grew to include the Salvation Army, City Mission and the Night Shelter.

It was obvious she needed to expand her “go-between” operation but making it happen was a little like wrestling a rowdy octopus. “I come from a family of teachers. I had zero experience of things like dealing with the council, getting grants or leasing premises,” says Langlands, whose South African accent has been softened by 17 years in New Zealand.

Eventually she looked to overseas examples, such as New York’s City Harvest and Sydney offshoot, Oz Harvest, which provided not only inspiration but a sustainable business model. Funding was secured not only for Kaibosh’s central space but also for a refrigerated truck and, last year, a $9000 walk-in cool room that’s increased the amount of rescued perishables that can be safely stored.  

She’s rightly proud of the numbers: in the past 12 months, Kaibosh has redistributed more than 42,000kg of surplus food to Wellingtonians in need. That’s around 120,000 meals. Her aim is that for every dollar it costs to operate the not-for-profit venture, a kilo of food will be “rescued” by Langlands and more than 60 volunteers. 

A strong green streak also runs through Kaibosh: “Every bit of food we save means less that’s dumped in a landfill. We estimate that in the past 12 months, saving this food has resulted in a 32,699kg reduction in greenhouse gas methane/CO² emissions.”

Such an achievement hasn’t gone unnoticed, with Kaibosh winning a number of sustainable community awards, including the Wellington City Supreme Award. Plans are afoot to become a regional organisation and eventually expand nationally, while their business plan has already been shared with others looking to set up food-rescue organisations in other parts of the country.

“Growing up in South Africa, I witnessed huge amounts of poverty and human rights abuse,” says Langlands, 33. “I have a real sense of responsibility to work with others to improve the community we live in and to use the skills I have to have to help those who are struggling.” 

This was published in the May 2013 issue of North & South.

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