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Around the world, a substantial amount of food is wasted every day. Experts have described the globe as being on the brink of a food crisis, with demand for food increasing along with our rapidly growing population. At the same time, the land to farm food on is becoming more scarce as the growing population simultaneously increases the need for housing, hospitals and schools. Therefore, reducing the amount of food we waste is a crucial strategy for ensuring the world's population continues to have access to sufficient nutrition.
Food waste significantly adds to greenhouse gas emissions and contributes to climate change. Around a third of all the food produced for human consumption is currently wasted. This amount of wasted food provides around 3.3 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, which would make food waste the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world if it were a country. The freshwater, land, labor, machinery, and transportation used to produce this food results in a huge carbon footprint.
In the UK, over 10 million tons of food is wasted each year. In the US, this figure is estimated to be at around 1.3 billion tons, the equivalent of more than $160 billion in food each year. So, how can food waste be tackled? What food waste solutions can be implemented to resolve this problem?
In developing countries, the issue lies in getting the product to the consumer in an edible state due to the lack of resources being available to ensure food stays fresh. For example, in South Asia, 50% of all cauliflower fails to make it to the consumer before rotting because of insufficient access to refrigeration. In the same region, large amounts of lettuce also spoil during transit from farm to supermarket.
However, the problem in the developed world is different. In regions such as the US and Canada, around 40% of wasted food is thrown out by the consumer. Therefore, an essential strategy for addressing food waste in the US and the developed world is to put systems in place that reduce the amount of food that consumers and businesses throw out.
Redistributing the Commercial Food Surplus
In December 2019, French waste management company Suez partnered with Australian food reselling platform Yume to establish a strategy for tackling commercial food waste.
Innovations are being developed within the industry to help tackle food waste from farm to supermarket, such as the work being done to create edible sensors to track and amend produce storage conditions to prevent spoiling in transit. Additionally, initiatives are being established to reduce the amount of food that consumers throw away by working to change the stigma against 'ugly' fruit and vegetables and educating people about how to turn leftovers into meals and buy only what they need. However, until recently, there have been fewer solutions directed at commercial food waste.
Commercial food waste is a significant source of total food waste in developed nations. Businesses such as restaurants, supermarkets, and even workplace canteens are throwing out a large amount of food unnecessarily. Yume recognized this and set up a platform providing a "wholesale marketplace for quality surplus food." It was set up to target the top tier food waste actions in commercial food waste scenarios: avoiding and re-using. The company acts to identify food surpluses early on and redistributes it to those who need it, retaining the food's value and avoiding the detrimental impact of food waste.
Read more about how one company is using food waste to develop plant-based ingredients.
Suez has united with Yume to help promote responsible food production and consumption. The partnership will see Yume growing its infrastructure, and the company plans to expand its services across the industry.
Back in 2014, Katy Barfield was profoundly impacted by the state of not just Australia's but the world's food waste habits. Along with 193 other countries, Australia pledged to adhere to the UN Sustainable Development Goal of halving food waste by 2030. With a vision to help the country move towards its goal, Bartfield founded Yume to divert food from its inevitable path by using metrics and data to optimize food transport and use.
Yume has been successful in selling more than 1,749 tons of surplus food before its quality was lost, as well as 3,499 tones of CO2 and 120,724,746 liters of water. It works by providing a one-step solution to commercial entities who may have a surplus of food products and automatically redistributes it to people wanting to buy it. A surplus may be due to several common scenarios such as deleted lines, food overproduction, bulk buying ingredients, by-products from food production, labeling errors on finished product goods, and items that may be close to their sell-by dates. Yume finds buyers for this food through its platform before the food spoils.
The platform returned around AUD$5 million back to both farmers and manufacturers. More importantly, it has facilitated the movement of food toward those who need it, and away from the fate of disposal, therefore, reducing the carbon emissions and environmental impact related to food waste.
The Future of Tackling Commercial Food Waste
Yume has emerged amidst several other large-scale food waste solutions. For example, five states in the US implemented a commercial food waste disposal ban in 2014. This limits how much food can be put in bins, forcing companies to find alternative solutions.
Another strategy was implemented in Brooklyn in 2012 when the city began utilizing food waste to create biogas as a clean source of energy. Waste was collected and added into tanks at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, where it was used to produce the by-product of wastewater treatment, methane, in larger quantities.
How are other companies tackling food waste?
However, none of these offered a solution that is as accessible and scalable as that provided by Yume. The future will likely see Yume's platform expand, with food surplus repurposing establishing itself as a standard process for commercial companies. In doing so, companies will have a significant impact on bringing down emissions and reducing the environmental impact associated with commercial food waste. It will also improve food availability, helping to ensure everyone can attain enough nutrients to support good health.
References and Further Reading
About Yume, Yume, https://www.yumefood.com.au/ (Accessed on 30 April 2020)
Yume and SUEZ partner to tackle commercial food waste, What's New in Food Technology Manufacturing (2019) Food Processing. Available at: https://www.foodprocessing.com.au/content/prepared-food/news/yume-and-suez-partner-to-tackle-commercial-food-waste-1173605913 (Accessed on 30 April 2020).
Yume partners with Suez to combat food waste, Food & Beverage, https://www.foodmag.com.au/yume-partners-with-suez-to-combat-food-waste/ (Accessed on 30 April 2020)
Solving the problem of Food waste, Friends of the Earth, https://friendsoftheearth.uk/food-waste (Accessed on 30 April 2020)
Somini Sengupta (2017) How Much Food Do We Waste? Probably More Than You Think [Online] New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/12/climate/food-waste-emissions.html (Accessed on 30 April 2020).
Emily S. Rueb (2017) How New York Is Turning Food Waste Into Compost and Gas [Online] New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/02/nyregion/compost-organic-recycling-new-york-city.html (Accessed on 30 April 2020).