01 Sep 2020
Istanbul, Turkey
Resource Efficiency and Sustainable Waste Management, Sustainable Food and Agriculture

Most young children find themselves wondering what will be served for dinner. As a boy, Olcay Silahli was a bit different: he spared a thought for food that went uneaten. From an early age, Silahli started dreaming of ways to prevent food wastage around his grandfather’s farm in Tekirdağ, Turkey. Silahli and co-founder Arda Eren have built that childhood passion into Whole Surplus, a thriving online platform that helps Turkish businesses use surplus food productively.

Whole Surplus diverts food otherwise destined for landfill towards commercial and social enterprises. Food retailers can reduce their losses by selling surplus produce — to manufacturers of animal feed and biofuel, or to diners who want healthy food at discounted prices. Alternatively, perfectly edible food can be donated to the needy, through food banks and homeless shelters. “We focus on finding digital solutions to global problems,” said Eren.

Whole Surplus combines the co-founders’ expertise in entrepreneurship and technology. Chief executive officer Silahli worked for several years as a brand manager with global food conglomerate Unilever, where he also oversaw several food waste responsibility projects. 

During his time with Unilever, Silahli observed glaring deficiencies in food supply chains, along with another serious problem: “There was no sustainable initiative to tackle food waste.”

Chief technical officer Eren, who holds degrees in computer science and business administration, helped his close friend Silahli to fill this gap online. In 2016, the pair established Whole Surplus after conducting extensive feasibility studies.

Whole Surplus operates on the idea that food retailers do not want to waste food; they just do not know how to put it to optimal use. “Food businesses lack the required skills to manage their surplus effectively,” said Silahli. 

The online platform satisfies this need by providing retailers with connections, an electronic payment system, and other logistical support to help retailers find recipients for surplus food. By signing up to the website, users can access extra produce from restaurants, supermarkets, and other food retailers. 

This sophisticated digital infrastructure removes the hassle of each business forging its own links to the secondary food market. Whole Surplus members can also take advantage of the website’s data analytics, allowing companies to identify exactly where food waste occurs in their supply chains.

Whole Surplus draws its financial sustainability from its users’ commercial sales. Where restaurants, for example, might once have written off surplus food as a loss, they can now recover some costs through sales for human consumption, animal feed, or energy production.

In turn, this profitability supports the social justice objectives of Whole Surplus, which proudly coordinates food deliveries to many food bank and NGO partners. “Our platform solves problems for all our clients,” said Silahli. “Food businesses can find institutions who value their surplus food, while non-profits receive steady food donations.” 

Whole Surplus has attracted huge support, including from UNDP, with its eye-catching achievements. In four years, the business claims to have saved more than 14,000 tonnes of food, prevented more than 48,000 tonnes of carbon emissions, and provided monthly food donations to 580,000 marginalised people.

That last statistic brings especially great pride to the founders. “We receive hundreds of photos from food donation operations every day,” said Silahli. “Those photos motivate us to work even harder to reach more people in need.”


Learn more about Whole Surplus through the website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Photos courtesy of Whole Surplus

David Wood is a freelance journalist and writer based in Beirut. He previously worked in Cairo.David Wood
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Whole Surplus Resource Efficiency and Sustainable Waste Management