At first glance, food waste may not seem like a big issue. You toss a partial head of cabbage and the last few carrots, but you compost them so it just goes back into the natural circle of the ecosystem, right? Not exactly. In fact, food waste is a massive problem. In the United States alone, estimates are that around one-third of all food is tossed. The waste is a problem, considering non-plant-based foods can’t be composted. That means meats, dairy and myriad other products end up in the landfill.
But the end waste doesn’t even represent the real problem of wasted food. Think about the process of getting food to your table. It’s a lengthy and resource-consuming process that starts with massive water requirements for animals and plants. It also introduces fertilizers and other products into the process.
Then the food moves to the manufacturing step, where more resources are used to produce secondary products and packaged goods. Next, we have the impact resulting from transport and storage before we even see the goods at our local market. From there, we have our own carbon footprint of driving to and from the store. So when food is tossed, it carries the weight of its entire life before that time.
As the issue is put into the spotlight, companies from every part of the product cycle are jumping in to provide solutions. While we can be more vigilant at home by making a meal plan, only buying foods we need, making use of scraps and focusing on proper storage so foods last longer, larger organizations with substantial impacts are stepping up to reduce consumption and focus on smarter acquisition of foods. Some practices include better inventory control, upcycling of expired foods and improved food preservation.
Fisheries Development and Environmental Conservation (FIDEC)
Coming out of Tanzania, this organization has developed a way to reduce food waste and battle malnutrition through a process that dries and grinds sardines into a powder. The idea is already spreading to other countries in Africa to address the ongoing food insecurity issues.
Getting in at the ground level, Holganix is a company on a mission to continually develop natural products to enhance the soil and the resulting crops. It basically helps the plants act more like native plants that require less water, while being more resilient to pests. The company relies on 800 species of bacteria and 20 species of fungi to generate a 100% organic fertilizer.
Apeel works with conventional and organic suppliers to lengthen the lifespan of products without chemical preservatives. The product is a plant-based film that coats fruits and vegetables in an invisible layer that keeps oxygen out and moisture in. This recipe keeps the produce fresh longer on the truck, in the store and at your home.
Similarly, Mori has developed a silk-based coating with the same effect. In addition to produce, it can be used on meats, produce and seafood to reduce spoilage. The natural ingredients protect as an alternative to fungicides, wax and single-use plastic.
Rather than coating the food, Hazel is a sachet suppliers drop into boxes of produce. Yet, it has the same preservative effect as Mori and Apeel.
Making use of food waste, Better Origins relies on the natural skills of the black soldier fly larvae to convert waste into animal feed.
Several companies have committed to making use of produce and other goods that would otherwise probably have been thrown out. Cucumbers are turned into pickles, not-so-pretty potatoes can become chips and many fruits can be dried. But food scraps such as apple cores, citrus rinds and vegetable peelings are also being converted into bioplastic for packaging, leather alternatives and woven fabrics.
This Indian company has developed a system to convert food scraps, mostly grains, into biobased cutlery that provides an alternative to single-use plastic.
Coffee grounds are a byproduct that has drawn a lot of attention in recent years. Bio-bean makes use of discarded grounds by converting them into biofuels. The resulting coffee pellets can be used in industrial boilers and significantly reduces the need to harvest virgin wood. It also produces coffee logs that are fuel for wood stoves, pizza ovens and other uses.
Better inventory management
Restaurants and grocery stores order food with the best intentions to use it all, but a large portion of food waste is produced at this level. Similarly, large companies purchase more than they need for office kitchens and employee restaurants. ReFED Insights Engine offers a solution with software that provides a cost-benefit analysis for different food-waste reduction options. Canadian-based Provision Coalition and Enviro-Stewards both address the issue as well.
Lead image via Unsplash