Food Waste Reduction: Food Distribution and Food Waste Conversion

How many times have you rummaged through your fridge, only to find a moldy bell pepper or a long-forgotten fuzzy lime? You are not alone: the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) calculates that about one-third of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, all while an estimated 690 million people—about nine percent of the earth’s population—go hungry. (It is thought that the pandemic may add a staggering 130 million chronically hungry people to that total.) If we were able to recover all the wasted food, the World Food Program estimates, we would be able to feed 2 billion people. According to the World Resources Institute, if leftover food were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gasses. Food waste and loss contribute more to emissions than the aviation and iron and steel industries combined.

When food goes uneaten, the resources used and emissions created in producing that food are squandered. According to the FAO, developing countries suffer more food loss during agricultural production, while in middle- and high-income regions, more food is wasted at the retail and consumer level. Knowing where and when it occurs is key to reducing waste. The challenge is to both reduce waste and to transform it into something useful, rather than harmful, to the earth.

 

Decrease waste

Around the globe, people are finding innovative ways to decrease, use, and convert waste, and they’re doing so in ways that are tailored to specific regions.

In Uganda, where only 20 percent of the population has electricity, engineer Lawrence Okettayot is cutting food waste at the point of harvest with his Sparky dehydrator. The device runs on biofuels from garden trimmings, leaves, and grass, and dries produce before it spoils. This is significant in a country where fully 40 percent of fruits and vegetables are discarded because there is not adequate refrigeration. The device enables farmers to turn what would have been leftover food into nourishment that lasts through the dry season, which helps families achieve greater food security.

In the United States, 31 percent of food waste occurs at the consumer and retail level. A company called Apeel hopes to help decrease the amount of food that consumers let spoil—like the moldy lime in the back of the fridge. Apeel uses materials from peels, seeds, and pulp of edible fruits and vegetables to create an invisible extra protective layer on produce that helps it last up to three times longer.

 

Salvage

Food_Waste Food in Dumpster
Food_Waste Food in Dumpster

When food goes uneaten, the resources used and emissions created in producing that food are squandered. According to the FAO, developing countries suffer more food loss during agricultural production, while in middle- and high-income regions, more food is wasted at the retail and consumer level. Knowing where and when it occurs is key to reducing waste. The challenge is to both reduce waste and to transform it into something useful, rather than harmful, to the earth.

 

Decrease waste

Around the globe, people are finding innovative ways to decrease, use, and convert waste, and they’re doing so in ways that are tailored to specific regions.

In Uganda, where only 20 percent of the population has electricity, engineer Lawrence Okettayot is cutting food waste at the point of harvest with his Sparky dehydrator. The device runs on biofuels from garden trimmings, leaves, and grass, and dries produce before it spoils. This is significant in a country where fully 40 percent of fruits and vegetables are discarded because there is not adequate refrigeration. The device enables farmers to turn what would have been leftover food into nourishment that lasts through the dry season, which helps families achieve greater food security.

In the United States, 31 percent of food waste occurs at the consumer and retail level. A company called Apeel hopes to help decrease the amount of food that consumers let spoil—like the moldy lime in the back of the fridge. Apeel uses materials from peels, seeds, and pulp of edible fruits and vegetables to create an invisible extra protective layer on produce that helps it last up to three times longer.

 

Salvage

During the first months of the pandemic, we saw how crucial—and incredibly complex—it can be to simply get food to the right place. The media was filled with photos of food going to waste while people remained hungry. Yet getting perfectly good but improperly distributed food to the right places requires organization and collaboration between otherwise unconnected interests.

Technology can help. Through the app Too Good To Go, local restaurants and bakeries offer mystery boxes of leftover food that would otherwise end up in the trash. The food is generally priced at about one-third of its value and can be picked up at the end of the day. It’s a win-win-win: consumers get great food at a deep discount, restaurants make a little something on food that would normally be trashed, and the earth has lower greenhouse gas emissions.

At times, lower-tech solutions can garner big wins for salvaging waste and getting food to where it is most needed. In the United States, Table to Table uses its seven refrigerated trucks to pick up perishable and prepared foods and get it to those in need within hours. There are many organizations, such as City Harvest or the Lost Food Project, that operate on this same idea around the world, picking up from farms, grocery stores, or restaurants and transporting the food to where it is needed. Countries including Italy, France, and Israel even have laws on the books that encourage or mandate unsold food donations.

 

Upcycle and convert

Food_Waste Food in refrigerator door
Food_Waste Food in refrigerator door

During the first months of the pandemic, we saw how crucial—and incredibly complex—it can be to simply get food to the right place. The media was filled with photos of food going to waste while people remained hungry. Yet getting perfectly good but improperly distributed food to the right places requires organization and collaboration between otherwise unconnected interests.

Technology can help. Through the app Too Good To Go, local restaurants and bakeries offer mystery boxes of leftover food that would otherwise end up in the trash. The food is generally priced at about one-third of its value and can be picked up at the end of the day. It’s a win-win-win: consumers get great food at a deep discount, restaurants make a little something on food that would normally be trashed, and the earth has lower greenhouse gas emissions.

At times, lower-tech solutions can garner big wins for salvaging waste and getting food to where it is most needed. In the United States, Table to Table uses its seven refrigerated trucks to pick up perishable and prepared foods and get it to those in need within hours. There are many organizations, such as City Harvest or the Lost Food Project, that operate on this same idea around the world, picking up from farms, grocery stores, or restaurants and transporting the food to where it is needed. Countries including Italy, France, and Israel even have laws on the books that encourage or mandate unsold food donations.

 

Upcycle and convert

Latin America, home to nine percent of the world’s population, is responsible for fully 20 percent of global food waste. Brazil alone is one of the ten largest producers of food waste in the world, according to the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation. But now, a pilot project just outside Rio de Janeiro transforms half-eaten burgers and wrinkled red peppers into energy instead of emissions.

The organic waste is fed into reactors the size of shipping containers, where it is sealed with bacteria that help it break down and produce methane fuel. The material that remains from this process, known as digestate, can be converted into high-quality compost for use as fertilizer in agriculture and forestry.

Basic biogas technology has been around for centuries. In addition to the nearly 50 million micro-digesters in rural areas of developing countries, the World Biogas Association estimates there are 132,000 small-, medium-, and large-scale digesters in the world, and the industry is growing fast. Biogas plants are now beginning to capture CO2 for use in greenhouses and the food and beverage industries—which brings that food waste full circle.

And then there are individuals. We, too, are a vital part of food waste reduction, and education is central to supporting waste reduction at the final point in the chain—consumption. Every one of us can be an ambassador for food waste management.

 

Sources:

https://www.bbc.com/news/business-44579530

https://foodtank.com/news/2019/09/eight-innovations-ending-food-loss-in-the-global-south/

http://www.rio.rj.gov.br/web/guest/exibeconteudo?id=8806038

https://www.dw.com/en/the-brazilian-megacity-experimenting-with-eco-friendly-waste-disposal/a-51469344

https://www.worldbiogasassociation.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/WBA-globalreport-56ppa4_digital.pdf

https://latinamericanpost.com/30693-latin-america-represents-20-of-wasted-food-on-the-planet

Food_Waste Food being poured into a Waste Bin
Food_Waste Food being poured into a Waste Bin

Latin America, home to nine percent of the world’s population, is responsible for fully 20 percent of global food waste. Brazil alone is one of the ten largest producers of food waste in the world, according to the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation. But now, a pilot project just outside Rio de Janeiro transforms half-eaten burgers and wrinkled red peppers into energy instead of emissions.

The organic waste is fed into reactors the size of shipping containers, where it is sealed with bacteria that help it break down and produce methane fuel. The material that remains from this process, known as digestate, can be converted into high-quality compost for use as fertilizer in agriculture and forestry.

Basic biogas technology has been around for centuries. In addition to the nearly 50 million micro-digesters in rural areas of developing countries, the World Biogas Association estimates there are 132,000 small-, medium-, and large-scale digesters in the world, and the industry is growing fast. Biogas plants are now beginning to capture CO2 for use in greenhouses and the food and beverage industries—which brings that food waste full circle.

And then there are individuals. We, too, are a vital part of food waste reduction, and education is central to supporting waste reduction at the final point in the chain—consumption. Every one of us can be an ambassador for food waste management.

 

Sources:

https://www.bbc.com/news/business-44579530

https://foodtank.com/news/2019/09/eight-innovations-ending-food-loss-in-the-global-south/

http://www.rio.rj.gov.br/web/guest/exibeconteudo?id=8806038

https://www.dw.com/en/the-brazilian-megacity-experimenting-with-eco-friendly-waste-disposal/a-51469344

https://www.worldbiogasassociation.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/WBA-globalreport-56ppa4_digital.pdf

https://latinamericanpost.com/30693-latin-america-represents-20-of-wasted-food-on-the-planet