Wasted Food & Innovations

Globally, over 30% of food is wasted each year. In Canada alone almost 60% of food is thrown away, which is equivalent to about 35.5 million metric tons. 32% of that food loss is avoidable. That 32% is equivalent to about 11.2 million metric tons of edible food that could have been used. Some unavoidable food waste includes vegetable peelings, bones, egg shells, etc. Wasted food is a problem at every step of the food supply chain, from the farm to distributors, at restaurants, grocery stores as well as in our homes. We want to use the term “wasted food” (coined by the US Environmental Protection Agency, EPA) instead of “food waste” to indicate that the value lost can still be recovered.  

It is estimated that over 70 billion pounds of food is thrown away during the entire food process (harvesting, distribution etc.). The waste during food production alone, as estimated by the Boston Consulting Group (BGC), equals $230 billion. This loss is due to a number of reasons such as its appearance, it could be considered “ugly produce”, but it is also possible that this food was not even harvested due to labor shortages, pest issues, issues with food safety or falling crop prices. 

Wasted Food & Innovations
Produce in a Grocery Store
Source: Greenly, 2022

Environmental Impact

Wasted food has an environmental impact as well. When wasted food is sent to a landfill (not composted) it creates methane gas as the food rots. Methane is a greenhouse gas emission that adds to our global warming and climate change problem. Instead of landfilling, wasted food should be composted, using facilities that can transform the waste into soil which can then be used for gardening or other uses. 

Due to climate change (with food waste also enhancing it), there is an increase in climatic shifts that impact farms and food production, especially their planting and harvesting cycle. There are changes in nonseasonal frost, early spring, hotter and drier summers, as well as an increase in disastrous climatic events which make the food production process less predictable. These issues make it more difficult for farmers to predict proper planting and harvesting cycles and can further impact the aesthetic value of the produce as well. These issues then impact the process down the line, as farmers can have difficulty setting prices, meeting supply and demand issues, and other issues can arise such as spoilage due to delayed transport, orders or poor storage conditions.

Food Insecurity

In Canada alone, 3 million people are food insecure, with 1.4 million of them being children. An extra million (on top of the 3 million people) have struggles accessing healthy food specifically. Globally, projections by the UN show that humanity  is not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 – Zero Hunger by 2030 as planned. This was especially pushed back due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

88.9% of low-income countries, 91.1% of lower-middle-income countries, and 96% of upper-middle-income countries have seen inflation levels above 5%, with many experiencing double-digit inflation. The share of high-income countries with high food price inflation has risen to 85.7%.

The World Bank

Inflation has increased due to COVID-19, and other factors such as the war in Ukraine, have changed trade and production patterns. Food prices are projected to stay high throughout 2023 and 2024. With these high food prices a global crisis has been triggered, with noticeable increases in poverty, hunger and malnutrition. In a report by FAO-WFP, food insecurity is expected to affect over 220 million people in 53 different countries and territories.

How do we solve this?

There are many different steps and ways we can promote sustainable food management at all food production and distribution levels, such as proper planning and coordination between governments, food producers and sellers, as well as action consumers can take at home.

At home consumers can plan meals, to ensure no food goes to waste, donate any unwanted food to food banks (keeping in mind what is accepted at food banks), and use unavoidable waste for something new! For example, consumers can use vegetable scraps and bones for broth or use coffee grounds and dried eggshells for plant nutrients. For restaurants and other companies in food distribution that are able to eliminate unnecessary wasted food, natural resources will be preserved, including water, gas, fertilizer, pesticides, etc. Ensuring farmers have proper access to pesticides is another important way to reduce food loss, especially for smallholder farms. For example, in 2003-2005 Kenyan farmers were losing their crops to locusts resulting in a loss of $2.5 billion.

Because food insecurity and food waste go hand in hand as they create a positive feedback loop, organizations such as The World Bank are taking action into food insecurity by providing loans, and other financial support for countries such as Bolivia, Jordan, Chad, etc., that need support in areas such as agriculture, social protection, and nutrition. An example is the Emergency Food Security and Resilience Support Project for $500 million to support Egypt’s efforts in strengthening resilience to food crises and support reforms to improve nutrition. With less food waste there is better food security and if there is more food waste there is increased food insecurity. It is important to tackle these issues together to ensure improvement in all layers of the food process chain.

Food Waste Innovations

Today we can also rely on technology and innovation to combat the wasted food issue. Below I list some examples of companies battling food waste that we can look out for and support.

Apeel

Apeel created an invisible, edible coating, which can be used on fruits and vegetables to increase their shelf life. Their coating is innovative in the sense that it is created from wasted agricultural materials that otherwise would have been thrown away. The coating ensures that moisture is kept inside while oxygen is kept out to reduce spoilage of the product.

Tenzo

Tenzo uses AI to forecast sales, growth trends, weather data, and so much more to predict your food usage and slash your food waste. It is hyper-accurate and can even forecast right down to a specific menu item level.

FridgeCam

The FridgeCam by Smarter’s concept has been implemented into many up to date fridges. The Smarter FridgeCam is designed so that a photo is taken every time the fridge door is closed and can be found on the mobile app. Allowing the consumer to easily see what is in the fridge at a recent time, allowing for easy meal planning and shopping. There are many other features in the app such as tracking best before dates that add to the experience.

Happy Planet & Loop

Happy Planet & Loop are similar companies as they both use produce that might not have otherwise been bought, due to imperfections, and create juices, alcohol, soups, etc., from them. They are both proud of their success in reducing food waste and loss, as well as other sustainability initiatives in their companies such as sustainable packaging.

References

Bandoim, L. (2020, January 26). The Shocking Amount of Food U.S. Households Waste Every Year. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/lanabandoim/2020/01/26/the-shocking-amount-of-food-us-households-waste-every-year/?sh=446d623d7dc8

Greenly. (2022, April 08). Global Food Waste in 2022. https://www.greenly.earth/blog-en/global-food-waste-in-2022

Love Food Hate Waste Canada. (2022). Food Waste in the Home. https://lovefoodhatewaste.ca/about/food-waste/

Mouysset, C. (2019, June 10). 15 Emerging Technologies Helping Reduce Food Waste. Lightspeed. https://www.lightspeedhq.com/blog/food-waste-emerging-technologies/

The World Bank. (2022, October 17). Food Security Update. https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/agriculture/brief/food-security-update

United Nations. (2022). Global Issues: Food. https://www.un.org/en/global-issues/food

Alicia Advincula
4 Thoughts on Wasted Food & Innovations
    Sarah
    28 Oct 2022
    4:36pm

    This is so informative! Food insecurity is such a major issue that so many aren’t aware even affects them. I also love the addition of brands that are really putting in the work. Now I know some things to look for while grocery shopping! Thank you!

    Elena Edo
    31 Oct 2022
    3:40pm

    Unfortunately people are so fixated on the way the produce looks rather than its nutritional value. You did a great job of highlighting that food insecurity is not necessarily just a supply problem but an overall food management issue.

      leslie fotso
      1 Nov 2022
      10:40am

      It is really unfortunate as you say Elena. There is a lot of mindset shift that needs to take place in order to address most of the sustainability issues we are facing. The aesthetic of a food item most as times has nothing to do with how nutritional it is or how good it tastes. As a matter of fact, the “ugly” foods are often those that are more natural, as they haven’t been genetically modified.

    leslie fotso
    1 Nov 2022
    10:47am

    Your article actually makes me realise that food waste and climate change form some sort of a vicious cycle. Basically climate change makes weather conditions unpredictable and this causes poor harvests for farmers. Poor harvests impact the whole food chain down the line and increase chances of food being wasted. The wasted food produces methane gas if landfilled, and this methane further intensifies climate change and the cycle continues. We need to break this cycle.

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