Information and tips for consumers to reduce food waste at home. Everyone can make changes that have an environmental, monetary, and social impact by learning simple habits.

Food Waste: Worse Than Ugly – By Austin Hirsh

a set of yellow bananas

According to Project Drawdown, reducing food waste is now the #1 best way to prevent global warming of 2 °C by 2050. This reflects the scale of the problem: 40% of all food produced in the US currently goes uneaten. Imagine the impact of a potential solution. In the United States, 25% of all fresh water consumed, 13% of all carbon emitted, and 80 million acres of farmland is used to produce the food we eat. When food is wasted, so are the resources used to grow it. This leads to $218 billion in losses annually (about double Bill Gates’ net worth).

Fortunately, awareness of food waste has been steadily growing over the past few years. Startups like Imperfect Foods have popularized the sale of “ugly produce” – fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be culled out of the food chain due to cosmetic imperfections. Using ugly produce is a great first step in reducing food waste, especially considering fruits and vegetables are the most wasted food group, with a whopping 48% of American produce going uneaten. However, we need more radical change in order to truly fix this broken food system.

The 2050 Company

As I have developed The 2050 Smoothie over the past year, I have discussed the issue of food waste with farmers, fruit distributors, grocery stores, and other start-ups. I have realized that the issue of food waste extends far beyond “ugly produce”. Food waste is systemic, nuanced, and multifaceted. To create a lasting impact, we must adjust our perception of imperfect produce and unilaterally repair an imperfect system.

In this post, I will describe the three primary areas of food waste that I have identified while building The 2050 Company. I will work backwards through the supply chain, starting in homes, where food waste is most recognizable to the average consumer, before eventually diving into the less intuitive waste that occurs in stores and on farms. I will also describe how The 2050 Smoothie evolved from an “ugly fruit smoothie” to a functional product that incorporates solutions to each type of food waste.

food waste in the supply chain

Source: NRDC

The Household: 39% of Food Waste

The largest culprit of food waste in America is not the farmer, the supplier, or even the grocery store. It is you and me. The United States is one of the only countries in the world where food waste at home outweighs waste at any other level of the supply chain; almost half of all food waste occurs in households! And we all know this waste. It is the brown bunch of bananas on your counter and the half-full box of spinach wilting in the back of your refrigerator.

As if to add insult to injury, the USDA found in 2018 that the healthiest Americans are the most wasteful. Healthy people waste more food because they eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. As Lisa Jahns, USDA nutritionist and co-author of the study, said, “We need a simultaneous effort to increase food quality as well as reduce food waste. We need to put both of those things out”.

food in trash can

Addressing Food Waste at Home

Reducing waste in homes relies heavily on changing consumer habits. You can waste less today by simply making banana bread, freezing your extra spinach to use in smoothies, or buying only what you will be able to eat.

Many new ventures now specialize in making it easier to reduce waste at home. Apeel Technologies made waves in May when it became the first anti-food waste company to reach a billion-dollar valuation, promising to dramatically increase the shelf-life of fresh produce with a natural coating.

The 2050 Company has taken a different route. We use freeze-drying technology that is already widely available to extend the shelf-life of fresh produce from days to years. Freeze drying simply removes the water from fruit, leaving all nutrients and flavor intact. Our customers can store The 2050 Smoothie on a shelf in their pantry for more than a year, eliminating waste and reclaiming freezer space. You simply blend the 2050 Smoothie powder with ice and water to reverse the drying process. Once blended, the smoothie has the same taste, texture, and nutrition as a fresh fruit smoothie! Since The 2050 Smoothie is more sustainable and more convenient than the alternative, our customers can make their daily habits greener without making their lives any harder.

Retail: 29% of Food Waste

Most of us are familiar with the second area of food waste as well. We contribute to this waste every time we go to the grocery store and examine five avocados to find one with the perfect color or knock on a dozen watermelons until one sounds just right. Often, the fruits we leave behind due to their imperfect appearance taste just as great as their “perfect” neighbors.

Last summer, a local fruit vendor told me how frustrated she was by customers who came in and left bruises on dozens of her peaches to find one that “squished just right”. Everyone wants to buy the peaches with the perfect mix of yellow and pink in their skin, she said. But, no one knows that the completely yellow ones actually taste the best.

With these consumer preferences in mind, it is not surprising that grocery stores have enacted policies to eliminate all “ugly produce” from their shelves before customers even see it.

various fruits for sale at a grocery store

Addressing Retail Food Waste

As mentioned above, ugly produce has received notable buzz recently. A handful of businesses sell produce that grocery stores would reject. Imperfect Produce, Hungry Harvest, and Misfit Market are good examples of those businesses. Other companies focus on extending how long fresh produce lasts on store shelves. OneThird, for example, makes a handheld scanner that can predict the remaining shelf-life of a piece of produce to the day.

While developing The 2050 Smoothie, we took the model of ugly produce suppliers one step further. We do not need to ask our customers to look beyond the appearance of ugly fruit for the sake of sustainability. All of the produce in our smoothies is ground into a fine powder, so cosmetic flaws are completely eliminated. Once powdered, an ugly strawberry and a beautiful strawberry really are identical.

Farms: 33% of Food Waste

So far, I have discussed waste due to perishability and waste due to cosmetic flaws. Most people are at least somewhat familiar with both of these waste streams. Though farms are the beginning of the produce life cycle, the waste that happens on farms is not so intuitive. Farmers must cull produce based on factors related to both shelf-life and appearance. However, these two types of food waste are only the tip of the iceberg. Holistically, waste on farms is tied to climate change, consumer preferences, and a complex system of supply and demand.

Farmers face myriad hurdles throughout the year that affect their output. Changing weather patterns may cause buds to break too early or too late. Tariffs may eliminate world markets. Fickle customers may suddenly decide that a certain crop does not fit their latest diet. Recently, the COVID-19 crisis wreaked havoc on farmers nationwide as bulk purchases from restaurants evaporated overnight and seasonal workers became a rare commodity.

Underlying all of these risks is this: consumers do not fully understand that natural trends shape how a farm operates. We expect fresh strawberries in January, though they only grow in June. And we rarely stop to consider the massive pressure that these expectations place on our agricultural systems. How are our farms meant to oppose the natural seasonality of our environments?

a farm with mountains in the background

Addressing Farmers’ Concerns

Most farmers I have spoken with worry less about consumers’ habits. They do not worry about consumers eating more ugly produce or keeping foods for longer in their homes. What they really want are solutions to the more systemic agricultural problems. So, we have to tackle these issues at the start of the supply chain. Otherwise, any waste reduction efforts further down the supply chain must be accompanied by a huge asterisk. To significantly reduce the amount of water, land, and carbon resources wasted on uneaten produce, we must start by ensuring that good produce does not rot in fields.

This is the hard problem of food waste: as important as it is to talk about making ugly produce more appealing or fresh produce more long-lasting, we cannot forget the fact that 20% of produce grown is never even harvested!

On the bright side, this problem is basically an issue of supply and demand. Modern business is built to handle this relationship. Slowing the rate of climate change will rely heavily on policy changes. However, the world of business is uniquely suited to achieve the single goal of reducing food waste. I believe that the solution to systemic food waste is to “flatten the curve” of supply and demand. We need to meet produce where it is.

Our Food Waste Solution

For example, local strawberries harvests in my home state of Washington occur in June and July. Could we buy and store the entire surplus of fresh strawberries in June and sell them in January? What if we could make a deal with local farmers: “If you invest the resources to harvest this field of strawberries instead of letting them rot, we will buy them all”. Imagine being able to freeze dry all of these strawberries in a single day, lock in all taste and nutrition, and store them for up to two years.

The 2050 Smoothie product

Systematic food waste reduction is not an idealistic aspiration, but a concrete goal achievable in a matter of years. Welcome to the future of food.


Austin Hirsh of The 2050 Smoothie holding his product and a smoothie

Austin Hirsh is the founder of the 2050 Company. The 2050 Company makes value-added food products that actively reduce waste in the food system. Their flagship product, the 2050 Smoothie, is a nonperishable, instant smoothie made partially from rescued produce. To learn more about the 2050 mission and join the waitlist for The 2050 Smoothie, visit the2050.co

alesha hartley

alesha hartley

We sat down with Alesha Hartley, a sustainable food systems advocate, to talk about the food waste issue, how everyone can help, and the future of the food system.

Q: What’s your background and experience with sustainable food systems?

I worked in the food and beverage industry for a long time as a pastry chef, where I saw a lot of food waste firsthand in hotels and restaurants. Because of this I decided to transition to the sustainability side of the food system and have since received my Master’s Degree in Food Studies from NYU.

I have worked on many food waste and sustainability-related projects and I have volunteered as a food waste advisor.

 

Q: What’s your motivation for working to reduce food waste?

There are four reasons why I’m trying to reduce food waste. To help hungry people, to benefit the environment, to help companies save costs from wasted food and to help generate economic activity.

 

Q: What’s your proudest accomplishment in this space?

My proudest moment was volunteering for the sustainability board in my town. The board consisted of multiple stakeholders, including members from the municipality. I was able to present food waste reduction strategies for use in local schools. I was connected with a local teacher and taught her how to do an ad-hoc waste assessment to gather data to add to our presentation to the Board of Education.

This made me proud because I could teach someone something and they could take this knowledge to others- creating a butterfly effect that activated others. Through this experience, it gave me great joy to hear that the students got excited about reducing food waste.

 

Q: What is the most shocking thing you’ve learned while fighting this issue?

It’s hard to pick just one because there are so many.

The first that comes to mind is that food waste occurs in every country, including developing ones. In developed countries, it’s more common for waste to occur at the end of the supply chain while developing countries suffer loss in the storage and distribution phases of the supply chain.

The next that sticks out is that date labels are not indicative of food safety, but rather food quality. This has lead to a huge amount of confusion and wasted food.

 

Q: What do you think it will take to halve food loss and waste by 2030?

The coronavirus pandemic has upended a lot of the data that was being collected. Regardless, it will take a coalition of everyone in the supply chain and people of multidisciplinary educational backgrounds coming together. It will take a collective and diverse effort from people including consumers and entrepreneurs to create lasting change.

For example, including people with a non-traditional background in Food Studies, HR, or Educational Design would provide benefits. Governments must play a role in solution development to unlock new opportunities and provide incentives for reducing food waste.

I want everyone to know that it is DOABLE. Many people think of sustainability as unattainable or something far off in the distance, but we all can just take baby steps first. Is baby steps for you just a new recipe to use broccoli stems? It’s an improvement.

Start where you feel you can create the biggest impact for the least effort. Then build upon those baby steps every time you incorporate another form of sustainability to your life. It does not have to be expensive. People have the power to change if they’re willing to and are enabled to.

(Author’s note: We have created the 30 Day Food Waste Challenge so anybody can learn new ways to reduce food waste)

Q: Let’s say we meet the UN’s goal and halve food waste by 2030- what will still need to be done? 

We will still need to keep doing the same thing as we did in the first half. We will not be done. We should celebrate, but continue and remain diligent.

If we get to 100% waste reduction we have to set up systems to maintain it. It’s like working out. If you stop once you reach your target weight then you will gain back the weight you lost. 

To stay at 100%, it will be based on sustainable, diverse supply chains with increased diversification of the food we eat. This will improve supply chain resiliency in both developed and developing countries. We also need to keep coalitions funded and not give up! Consumer education campaigns must also be continued to teach the new people that are born. 

 

Q: Where do you think shelf life prediction could play an impact in areas you have worked in? 

This could be a game-changing disruption. Date labeling is subjective and not scientific. If we can leverage this type of technology to better pinpoint when an item will expire, then that has the potential to support a date label’s ability to then reflect a food’s level of SAFETY.

An important note of caution is it has to be accurate. Otherwise, it could contribute to food waste.

However, it could have immense benefits. One example would be informing the procurement manager of a restaurant that an item is near expiration. They can then inform the chef who can then get a special out immediately to get it sold and in the belly of customers.

 

Q: Do you feel any other messages are important alongside reducing food waste? 

We all need to think about strengthening and creating resilience in the food system. This includes not only economic development, but also creating biological diversity. We are only eating a few crops. Diversity helps farms and helps us get more nutrients in our diets.

We need to seek out advice from indigenous partners. They have been cultivating this land for thousands of years and are great stewards of it. 

The best way for consumers to help is to educate themselves on what indigenous crops are. Then vote with your fork (and dollar) because stores carry what people want to buy.  

 

Q: What is one thing you wish everyone would do or at least consider? 

 What is the smallest baby step you can start with right now and incorporate? Even if you don’t believe in climate change, what is one thing you can do to help the environment or live a healthy life for yourself?

In terms of food waste, meal planning is my recommended first step. We tend to pick up more than we actually need. Shop with a list and meals in mind that you know you will make so you don’t overbuy.

 

Q: Do you have any closing words?

Food insecurity is real. Climate change is real. Reducing food waste can help both of these. With the COVID-19 crisis, food insecurity will only get worse. We need to get food into the bellies of people in need. Tackling food insecurity and waste will bring about a sense of pride in doing something bigger than yourself and doing your part as a human to help the human race move forward.

 

Q: If people want to get into contact with you, what is the best way to reach out? 

Contacting me through LinkedIn would be my preferred method of contact. 

 

 

Thank you Alesha for the meaningful conversation about sustainable food systems. To learn more about how you can make an impact, visit our blog.

 

 

 

map of food donation programs in US

Why Food Donation Programs are Important

In 2015, 42.2 million individuals, including 13.1 million children, were food insecure in the United States. Food insecure individuals are defined as those who lack access to a sufficient amount of food to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Additionally, about 40% of food in the U.S. is wasted. Diverting edible food that would otherwise be wasted by households and businesses to food-insecure individuals via food donation programs contributes to hunger relief efforts and reduces food waste.

The UN has called on all of us to halve global food loss and waste by 2030. Further, reducing food waste is one of the major sustainability goals laid out by the UN in Sustainable Development Goal 12.3.

Find a Program Near You

There are many ways to contribute to food donation programs in the U.S. One may choose to volunteer their time, donate food, or gift money. Donating excess food to local programs is a great way to reduce food waste.

We created this map of food donation programs, including statewide food bank associations and some local food banks and pantries, to help find one near you.

Map of Food Donation Programs in the U.S.

Follow these hyperlinks to find resources in Alaska and Hawaii.

Please note that markers on this map may indicate food bank networks or a statewide resource, so markers surrounding your area may be applicable to you.

Food Donation Programs Accept Canned Goods

What Happens if Food I Donate Makes Someone Sick?

Many food industry business owners do not donate excess food for fear of legal liability. To combat these concerns, the U.S. Congress passed the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996 and the Food Donation Act of 2017. These acts were designed to protect companies upon making food donations to non-profit organizations, even if those donations cause harm to any recipients.

To learn more about both of these acts protecting those who donate food, read our post on legal protections for those donating food.

Additional Resources

To find local food banks, pantries, and donation centers check out these resources:

https://www.feedingamerica.org/find-your-local-foodbank

https://www.foodpantries.org/

OneThird is a member of Friends of Champions 12.3. We are helping to halve global food loss and waste by 50% by 2030. We work with growers, shippers, distributors, and retailers to reduce food waste by measuring shelf life. If you are interested, you can contact us via our form or email us directly at info@onethird.io.

 

one third logo

food donation

Food is Wasted While People Go Hungry

Food waste is a well-known issue and many of us are contributing to the problem without thinking much of it. However, how is it that 11% of the world’s population is hungry and we are tossing out so much food? There is a large disparity and an obvious gap here that must be bridged. Much of this is a result of people worrying they will be sued for donating food.

Much of the food wasted in the food supply chain goes to anaerobic digestion or energy recovery. While this is better than going into a landfill, on the food recovery hierarchy pyramid, food waste prevention and redistribution are above it. This means that donating food to those in need has a better socioeconomic and environmental impact.

Documentaries, such as Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story, have been made where people live, and even gain weight, off of dumpster-diving at food distributors and retailers. There is plenty of healthy food out there to feed the hungry. This post is to help tackle the fears involved with donating food to help benefit the planet and those around us. 

Where do Fears of Donating Food Come From?

A lot of the fears have to do with hurting those we donate to and difficulty in finding where/how to donate extra food. However, there are solutions for both of these problems as these concerns have been voiced by numerous organizations and people as the food waste and food insecurity issues linger on.

“What if Someone Gets Sick from Food I Donate?”

Thankfully, the US government has considered these fears and in 1996 enacted the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. In simple terms, it protects you when donating to a non-profit organization, even if the product is to cause someone harm (which of course we all hope doesn’t happen!).

Companies were still hesitant to donate after the passing of this law because it had not been tested in court yet (which also shows how grateful people are to just be receiving food and how rare legal action really is). The liability protections were expanded for “qualified direct donors” with the passing of the Food Donation Act of 2017 to combat these fears and eliminate even more hesitations. 

What About in Europe?

The story in Europe is unfortunately not so nice, as Italy is the only European country to currently have a good Samaritan act in place to protect those who donate food from legal action. There have been discussions at the EU level to enact similar laws, but sadly none have passed yet.

The Benefits of Donating Food

Donating food to those in need is a rewarding activity that greatly benefits society. A large portion of the world does not know when their next meal will be. Empowering people in need and providing them with the energy they need to live a healthy life pays countless dividends.

The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act was created to protect companies and people from repercussions to helping those around us in need. Let’s trust this protection and make the most of the extra food that we have!

“How Should I Go About Donating Food?”

The most popular and well-connected food donation non-profit in the US is Feeding America. This is a network of over 200 food banks and has fed more than 46 million people to date. Their app, MealConnect, allows you to link your food donations with local nonprofits for free, as well. It’s never been easier than now to donate food to our food-insecure neighbors. We have legal protections in place. Let’s make the situation better together!

OneThird has also created a Food Donation Program Map to find the one nearest to you.

Summary

Many people fear legal action and potential guilt from donating food that may harm someone. However, there are legal protections in place in America (and a few in Europe) formed to prevent this fear. A large portion of people in the world is food insecure. And the chances that they would sue from someone graciously gifting them food is either nonexistent or extremely low.

There are a number of resources to find programs to donate to around you, so it’s really easy to do!

 

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog post does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only.  Information on this website may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information.  This website contains links to other third-party websites.  Such links are only for the convenience of the reader, user or browser.

Why is Food Waste an Issue?

Sometimes we are left feeling helpless when we hear about food waste in the supply chain.

There are around 1.3 billion tons of food waste per year, with more than half occurring outside of our homes. 

Food waste is causing a huge environmental impact, all while a large portion of the planet is food insecure. 

Because of this, it’s a goal in UN SDG 12.3 to reduce food waste and food loss by 50% by 2030.

It’s more important now than ever to use sustainable products that reduce food waste and increase the utilization of food so we can ensure every bit of our growing population has enough food to eat.

Thankfully, there are some actions you can take to help this cause.

ugly apples

So What Can You Do About it?

Sure, we can save our food at home and make an impact there. But can we actually make an impact in the supply chain?

The answer is yes! Our buying decisions impact the resulting supply chain actions.

Buying products that use ingredients that would otherwise be wasted is a great step to reducing your footprint.

We’re going to detail eight innovative companies that have tackled the food waste issue head-on and made it tasty by using “upcycled” ingredients.


8 Companies with Products that Reduce Food Waste:

  1. Imperfect Foods
  2. Uglies Snacks
  3. The 2050 Company
  4. Rise Products
  5. Ripe Revival
  6. Pulp Pantry
  7. Upprinting Food
  8. Rubies in the Rubble

1. Imperfect Foods

  • Business Model: Delivering fresh produce that is considered too “ugly” for retailers directly to consumers

Imperfect Foods has taken the world by storm lately as everyone realizes the benefits of buying ugly produce. Flavors and nutrients in imperfectly shaped produce are just the same as those meeting rigid retail visual specifications. They take the produce that is rejected by supermarkets due to appearance and sell it directly to consumers. Claiming prices up to 30% less than national supermarket chains and delivery, Imperfect Foods has all of the factors necessary for a sustainable fresh produce business.

2. Uglies Snacks

  • Business Model: Making potato chips from potatoes deemed “too ugly”

The folks at Uglies realized that most people are still happy to eat potato chips from potatoes with brown edges, dark spots and wrong sugar content. When potatoes fail tests due to “cosmetic imperfections,” Uglies takes them and converts them into delicious potato chips. It’s also important to note that their potatoes are not diseased, rotting or unripe, so they still taste great!

3. The 2050 Company

  • Business Model: Creating smoothie powders from recovered fruits

The 2050 Company has tackled the food waste issue head-on by finding a valuable way to repurpose fruits that would otherwise be wasted. The founder Austin Hursh, has set the Earth as the #1 stakeholder of the company. He names it after the fact that by 2050, we will need to produce more food than in the last 8,000 years combined. The only way to accomplish this is through efficient and sustainable production. Why not make saving the world tasty? In less than a minute, you can make a smoothie that tastes virtually the same as a smoothie from fresh or frozen fruit, while retaining nearly 97% of the nutrients. Find out more about The 2050 Company.

4. Rise Products

  • Business Model: Using leftover grains from breweries and turning it into a variety of products

Rise Products works with craft breweries to ensure they maximize equipment utilization and turn their byproducts into tasty food! Offering products like granola, barley “super flour” and brownies, Rise Products upcycles excess grains and converts them into healthy ingredients. To see their products, check out their website.

5. Ripe Revival Market

  • Business Model: Delivering local foods to people at home and to those in need

Ripe Revival Market is admirably focused on many causes at once in response to COVID-19: preventing the spread of the coronavirus, supporting local businesses, delivering nutritious foods, and fighting food insecurity. Through buying unused food products from local businesses and delivering them to paying customers and those in need, Ripe Revival Market helps ensure that the food waste and food insecurity issues are tackled at once. Also, with every membership Ripe Revival Market donates fresh foods to those struggling financially.

6. Pulp Pantry

  • Business Model: Making chips from upcycled veggie pulp

Pulp pantry proves that healthy and sustainable foods can still taste great. By using organic juice pulp from kale and celery as a base, these chips make sure ugly and rejected vegetables still have a home (your stomach). With flavors of chips like Jalapeño Lime, Salt ‘n’ Vinegar, and Spicy Vinegar these will surely be eaten quickly. But even if they aren’t, vegetables are preserved longer in chip form than in their original form, so there’s a much greater chance they aren’t wasted.

7. Upprinting Food

  • Business Model: Recovering food and turning it into decorative (and edible) 3D-printed food products

Upprinting Food is unlike any other company on this list. Founded by Elzelinde van Doleweerd as her graduation project in 2018, this company turns food into “attractive, tasty food using 3D printing.” The possibilities are really endless with this technology and can give restaurants a great advantage over competitors. The best part is all products are made using food that was once unattractive and would have been wasted otherwise.

8. Rubies in the Rubble

  • Business Model: Making condiments from surplus food

With upcycled plant-based condiments like mayo, ketchup and relish, Rubies in the Rubble is making your meals tastier and more sustainable. Even if you decide to buy normal produce from retail stores, you can still make an impact on the food waste issue by using these sustainable condiments. Their good taste also ensures you eat everything on your plate and don’t toss it in the trash!


Summary

To account for the large rises in population and the limited number of people working in the food production industry, we are forced to look for ways to sustainably and efficiently produce food.

Buying products that reduce food waste is a perfect way to do that, and these companies are leading the charge. Check them all out and reduce your food waste impact!

How Else You Can Reduce Your Food Waste Impact

We’ve created the 30 Day Food Waste Challenge to provide you with 30 different ways you can reduce food waste. Do you think you can do all of them in 30 days?

To learn about how OneThird is using shelf life prediction technology to reduce food waste in supply chains click here.

 


“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.”

– UN SDG 12.3


What are the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals?

The United Nations has developed an agenda to stimulate action through 2030 across 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets which aim to “strengthen universal peace” by way of collaborative partnership. These goals call for all countries, whether developed or developing, to join in a global partnership to work toward ending poverty, improving health and education, reducing inequality, and spurring economic growth while tracking climate change and preserving oceans and forests. UN SDG 12.3 is the specific section discussed in this post.

 

UN SDG 12

 

United Nations SDG 12 and Indicator 12.3

UN SDG 12 urges sustainable consumption and production patterns. Within this goal, Indicator 12.3 focuses on global food loss and waste. Food loss pertains to food lost from production up to (but not including) the retail level. Food waste pertains to food lost at retail and consumption levels.

Context: The Problems with Food Waste

If food wastage were a country, it would be the 3rd largest greenhouse gas emitter, behind China and the United States. In the U.S. alone, approximately 40% of food goes uneaten. That’s 96 billion pounds in a year, or 263 million pounds per day. So, about 80 million acres are used to grow food that ends up as waste (roughly the size of New Mexico, or 75% of California).

Moreover, one day of food waste in the U.S. could fill the Rose Bowl – a 90,000 seat stadium in Pasadena, California. In all, food is the largest component of municipal solid waste that is landfilled, and 16% of all methane (CH4) emissions (which are over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide emissions) are released from landfilled food.

a landfill with food waste

Consequences of Food Waste 

In total, food production utilizes 80% of all freshwater consumed, 10% of all energy, and 50% of land. In the U.S., where 40% of food is wasted, 32% of U.S. freshwater, 4% of the U.S. energy budget, and 25% of U.S. land usage is also wasted. Meanwhile, that food waste contributes to 25% more methane emissions.

Globally, 1.4 billion hectares of land (28% of the world’s agricultural area) is used to produce food that is lost or wasted. If this land were a country, it would be the second-largest (5.4 million square miles), behind only Russia (6.6 million square miles).

•  Economic Impact

The economic impacts of food waste pertain to costs of disposal, labor, and the degradation of our soil, waterways, and air. In the U.S., $161 billion are lost in the food industry each year. Perhaps even more concerning is the relationship between food waste and hunger, food insecurity, and poverty.

In the U.S., in 2010, 17.2 million households were food insecure, meaning that it was difficult to provide sufficient food for everyone in those homes. Furthermore, 46 million Americans relied on SNAP benefits (previously known as food stamps). Meanwhile, reducing food losses in the U.S. by even 30% would be enough to feed 50 million Americans every year if distributed properly.

•  Social Impact

With an increasing global population, there is a call for more food production, but it is already here – it’s just being wasted! Safe and nutritious food that is otherwise wasted could actually feed 2 billion people (more than double the amount of undernourished people in the world) and saving only one-fourth of food currently wasted could feed 870 million hungry people. Latin America and Africa could feed 600 million people, and Europe could feed 200 million people.

So, cutting food loss and waste could reduce poverty and hunger by feeding people in need. Also, it fights climate change by reducing the amount of food waste in landfills. Reducing food waste is the 3rd top solution to climate change, behind improving refrigeration management and utilizing onshore wind turbines. This is an issue that all parts of the food system can take simple steps to improve.

rotting apples

Impact and Results from UN SDG 12.3

By tracking and measuring food waste and loss, the idea is to improve the efficiency of the food supply system and demonstrate how policy and investment can positively affect this process. By collecting data throughout harvest, post-production, storage, transportation, primary processing, and wholesales stages, countries can create programs that improve the efficiency of their own domestic food supply chain.

OneThird and UN SDG 12.3

OneThird was founded on the basis of helping all parts of the food supply chain reach the goals set forth by UN SDG 12.3.

We believe objectively predicting the shelf life of fresh produce and acting on this information will have a tremendous impact on preventing food waste.

Our solutions enable retailers, distributors and growers to better assess the quality of their produce and optimize its flow, thus maximizing supply chain efficiency. To learn more about how we would work in your business, contact us via our webpage or email us directly at info@onethird.io.

 

one third logo

The Food Waste Problem

Food waste is an issue that affects every area of the food system. Supply chains, restaurants, consumers, and really anywhere food travels has some amount of waste. And according to the FAO, we waste 1.3 billion tons of food per year. Sadly, it is almost inevitable that some food will be wasted or a surplus will be produced. However, it is best to know what to do with that extra food to provide the largest socioeconomic benefits.

That’s why the Food Recovery Hierarchy was created.

What is the Food Recovery Hierarchy?

The EPA created the Food Recovery Hierarchy to help those in the food system prioritize different methods for managing surplus food. Items at the top are higher priority and have the largest socioeconomic benefit, while the items at the bottom are not preferable.

UN food recovery hierarchy

Where Should I Focus My Food Recovery Solutions?

It’s best practice to start at the top of the pyramid and make every effort in one section before moving to the next. For example, you should always find how to reduce surplus food generated at the source first. The order is as follows:

  1. Source Reduction
  2. Feed Hungry People
  3. Feed Animals
  4. Industrial Uses
  5. Composting
  6. Landfill/Incineration

Each of these sections is explained below.

1. Source Reduction

strawberries

The best way to recover food is to not have surplus food in the first place. Just think about how much money and effort is put into food that makes it all the way through the supply chain and then is just thrown away because there is not a demand for it or it is not high enough quality for a consumer.

There are numerous ways to reduce food waste at the source. Having more accurate inventory management and demand planning are two key ways this is accomplished.

2. Feed Hungry People

handing out oranges

The next best thing to do is to feed hungry people. Million of people are food insecure and don’t know when their next meal will be. Do not send dumpsters full of food to the landfill or to be converted to energy when these people are in need. It has never been easier to donate to a non-profit, and you can rest assured knowing that there are good samaritan laws in place to legally protect your organization from liabilities.

You should search on Google for the best non-profits near you to donate to. There are also programs, such as MealConnect, that make this easy. 

3. Feed Animals

cow chewing

Feeding animals is the next highest on the list. Why? Well for starters, they can eat food that has gone past human consumption ability. Also, feeding animals is a huge hit to the environment. Cows can eat up to 120 pounds of wet feed a day alone! Stomachs of cows and other livestock are much more durable than those in humans and they are able to process rotten produce much better than us.

So when donating to people is out of the question, the millions of farm animals around the world will gladly accept your food. 

4. Industrial Uses

industrial plant

Industrial use is something that has garnered a lot of interest lately and has a nice appeal to it. Using crops that would be trash and converting it to energy or fuel? Sounds like a great concept. While technology is improving, you may be curious as to why it is still below feeding humans and animals in the food recovery hierarchy. This is because all of the food going into these processes, such as anaerobic digestion, have costs for gallons of water, fertilizer, labor, transportation, sorting, and processing already included. There are much cheaper ways of generating energy than this.

If you have gotten past the point where donating to humans is an option and donating to animals for feed is out of the question, this is certainly the next best option. But again, more emphasis should be placed on reducing the amount of food waste in the first place so you don’t have to make the decision this far down. Food rotting in a landfill and in an anaerobic digestion facility are not too far apart. 

5. Composting

compost

Composting and adding to the landfill are similar to anaerobic digestion and energy recovery in that the food is still rotting away and emitting greenhouse gases. However, it is still more ideal than sending food off to a landfill because the nutrients can be repurposed for growing more crops. It can be done almost anywhere and is great for food scraps.

6. Landfill/Incineration

wasted food

Adding food to the landfill is the worst-case scenario. Leaving food to rot and letting go of all of the energy that was put into making it is not a good thing. The methane that is produced is at least 20x more potent in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide and there is no benefit to any living thing to having it sit in a landfill.  

Conclusion

Hopefully, this explanation of the food recovery hierarchy helps you make more informed decisions about how to manage your food waste and helped you realize the benefits, both social and economic, on preventing food waste in the first place. To learn more about ways you can prevent food waste, check out our blog.

How We Can Help

OneThird makes shelf life prediction solutions to prevent food waste, so you are staying at the top of the pyramid. We work with growers, distributors, and retailers to make smarter decisions about food by measuring shelf life.

If you’re interested in learning more about shelf life prediction, be sure to read The Ultimate Guide to Fresh Produce Shelf Life Prediction.

Ultimate Guide to Fresh Produce Shelf Life Prediction

To learn more about how we can help you reduce your food waste, visit Our Solutions.