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02 Sep 2021

Why is food waste a problem?

Simona Sdao

Between 33-50% of all food produced globally is never eaten, and the value of this wasted food is worth over $1 trillion. Meanwhile, about 800 million people around the world starve or suffer from severe malnourishment, and this data does not only refer to developing countries, but to highly industrialized nations too. For instance, in the USA alone 40 million of Americans live in food poverty as of 2021. On top of this, food waste also impacts the world’s fresh water supply, which is significantly employed to grow that portion of food that is never eaten. 

Food waste is not only a social and humanitarian concern, but also an environmental one: by wasting food, there follows also a waste of all the energies and resources it takes to grow, harvest, transport, and package it. Moreover, when food goes to landfill and rots, it produces a chemical compound called methane, which is highly harmful to the environment and contributes to climate change.

Global Threat or Business Opportunity?

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development reflects the increased global awareness on the issue of food waste. The Target 12.3 validates the need to: “by 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses”. 

The first step to take to reduce food waste is to be more mindful about how we consume food in our everyday life. However, tackling the issue of food waste in the business world requires more than just a personal commitment. In this article, we will be looking at innovative solutions that are turning food waste from a global threat to a business opportunity. 

Food waste can raise up two types of business opportunities: those who find ways to recycle food waste as an approach to a circular economy, and those who manage to find a second life for the food that is inevitably wasted.

Stop the Waste

UK recycling company Keenan Recycling believes in waste as a resource. They utilise the latest technology in the field to turn food and garden waste into two products:

Through a process called ‘Anaerobic Digestion’, the food waste collected is broken down into anaerobic containers. This breakdown creates biogases such as methane, carbon dioxide and a by-product called digestate. Whilst digestate can be used for fertiliser, the other biogases produced can be used for electricity, heat, or even biofuel for transport.

Organic recycling consists of a much simpler process: surplus food can be turned into an ecological and chemical free alternative to chemical fertilisers in agriculture. This is done by accelerating the natural composting process where biodegradable waste is fed into large, enclosed chambers with added heat, carefully controlled pH and microbial action to create premium grade compost in three days. This organic matter benefits soil structure, its water holding properties, microbial activity and soil health.

A Second Chance

An alternative to food waste recycling is to find new purposes for surplus food. In 2012, Justin Park and Tyler DuBois founded a pickle company called The Real Dill in Denver, Colorado. As their business grew, the founders realised that the company was tossing around 300 pounds of food scraps in the trash every week. These cucumber cutoffs, raw horseradish, peppers and peppers after pickling resulted in a delicious and refreshing cucumber-infused water.

As a way to achieve their zero waste target, the founders realised that the leftovers cucumber water could be combined  to build a Bloody Mary mix recipe. What they initially considered a byproduct, quickly became their best-selling product.

However, saving up their wasted cucumber-infused water did not eliminate the problem of food waste completely. The company also adopted other strategies, such as diverting over 40,000 pounds of food scraps annually away from landfill and into the capable hands of local nonprofit partners that compost it for their urban farming initiatives.

Sustainable Eating Apps

Another business model which leverages on sustainable eating is that of food-sharing apps. These apps give customers the possibility of purchasing restaurants’ end-of-the-day surplus food at a discounted price. 

In September 2020, one of the pioneering companies of the field, Too Good To Go, announced that since its launch in 2016 it had saved one million meals in the UK alone, preventing an estimated 2,500 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Similarly, the app No Waste offers a service which also aims at reducing food waste, but starting from people’s own houses rather than restaurants. The app features include the possibility to check what food you have left in the house, see what needs to be used first, plan meals and reduce waste and unnecessary purchases. 

Summary

Our economy’s journey towards a circular model depends entirely on the choices we make on a daily basis. Whether you are a business owner or an individual that would like to do more for our planet, we hope you will consider your food waste and whether it can have another life or purpose and perhaps even become another revenue stream for you. 

Technological progress has allowed us to refine recycling processes to the point where no waste is sent to landfill but it is rather transformed into new resources. As business owners, it is crucial to ensure that the companies that handle your waste are mindful about its impact on the environment. Do you know where your food waste goes?

On the other hand, before labelling something as ‘waste’, it is important to consider whether your waste could be employed for some other purpose. Especially when it comes to food, the possibilities to reuse your leftovers in innovative ways are plenty. The journey towards a circular economy needs to start from our own communities, and we can do so by considering where our own surplus food might be required before tossing it away.

Finally, the alternative provided by the recently-established sharing culture unlocks an extra life for food waste, which also in the most industrialized countries, still represents a valuable resource for those who live in food poverty. 

If you would like to learn more about what you can do to contribute to our economy’s shift towards a circular model, sign up to our newsletter and community to receive fortnightly updates and get in touch with experts, founders and sustainable changemakers.

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