Product, Service & Design Innovation
3 Startups Offering Simple, Scalable Solutions to One of the World's Biggest Problems

Wrinkled veggies. Rotting fruit. Containers that you wouldn’t dare open because of the smells that might escape. How many times have you cleaned out your refrigerator and been dismayed at how much food has spoiled?

Every year, billions of dollars are wasted because of food spoilage. In fact, the EPA notes that “in 2011 alone, more than 36 million tons of food waste was generated, with only four percent of food waste generated diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting.” Meanwhile, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) paints a wider picture by noting that one-third of food produced for human consumption is wasted, which translates into 1.3 billion metric tons of food per year.

Food waste not only depletes money from our pockets but also our natural resources. The FAO notes that the global result of food waste is the addition of 3.3 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases to the planet’s atmosphere.

Luckily, a handful of social entrepreneurs have realized the possibilities of extending the life of food, from saving consumer dollars, and reducing industrial agricultural costs, to potentially alleviating global poverty. Interestingly enough, these lofty goals all come from fairly simple solutions.

For example, earlier this year, Sustainable Brands Innovation Open (SBIO) 2013 winner Fenugreen, impressed our expert judges with its product, FreshPaper — a biodegradable square of paper that can keep food fresh up to 2-3 times longer due to a mix of organic spices that inhibit bacterial growth in fruits and vegetables. Fenugreen has gone on to win several more accolades since SBIO, including being named one of Sustainia’s top 10 sustainability innovations for 2013, and Freshpaper inventor Kavita Shukla being named as one of Forbes’ “30 under 30.”

The young company now has some competitors, among them BerryBreeze and Freshkeeper. Similar to FreshPaper, BerryBreeze promises to slow down the spoilage of food by 2-3 days. However, its approach is different in that BerryBreeze tackles bacterial growth within refrigerators. In fact, the company calls its product “the cure for the refrigerator.”

Priced at $50, BerryBreeze is a compact, battery-operated device to be placed on a refrigerator shelf and release oxygen to combat decomposition caused by bacteria. The goal is to ”eliminate, neutralize and sanitize undesirable microorganisms, germs, mold, yeast, fungus, bacteria, viruses and odors in the refrigerator.” The company states that reduction of these unwanted bacteria in the fridge is the key to maintaining food for 2-3 times longer.

According to the company, BerryBreeze generates activated oxygen for the initial 60 minutes of operation, then automatically switches to standby mode (170 minutes), after which it reactivates for ten minutes and repeats the cycle for 230 minutes until the batteries need replacement (usually five to six months).

The company estimates that BerryBreeze has the potential to save the average family of four up to $2,200 per year by avoiding common food spoilage.

“Our team developed BerryBreeze so that families, institutions, businesses and charities around the world can preserve their food, protect their health and manage their expenses while also benefiting the environment,” says Russ Karlen, CEO and father of BerryBreeze’s creator and USC Entrepreneur of the Year honoree Brittany Karlen Messmer.

The company has no set timeline on when to replace the device, but they mention that they have devices in their company’s headquarters which are five years old and still chugging along. The batteries, however, need to be replaced usually every five to six months.

The other contender, Freshkeeper, has its eyes set on reducing ethylene damage.

Why ethylene? The company, MWH Agro, says that ethylene, which is produced naturally by plants, kickstarts the ripening process in fresh produce when it builds up in the air. In fact, MWH Agro points out that ethylene is used within the agricultural industry to force-ripen fruits and vegetables so that they are perfect for point of sale.

Freshkeeper comes in various forms of ethylene filters for both industrial and consumer uses. The company states that its filters can keep shipping containers free of ethlyene for up to 65 days, where as its home device, which lasts for three months, can keep fruits and vegetables fresh in refrigerators for more than 10 days.

Overall, these three products are distinct, varying by application and price point but have the same goal. The most interesting aspect is that all three of these startups have ensured that their products are scalable, so that they can tackle the food waste problem in the home and at the industrial level.

Have you tried any of these products? Let us know what you think.

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