Campaigns near and far have been educating people on the – well, wastefulness – of food waste. Bad for both our wallets and the environment, the amount of food that is purchased by consumers only to go uneaten and get thrown out is estimated at 16 percent in European Union countries and up to 25 percent in the United States. The average family in the United Kingdom discards £700-worth (over US$1,000) of food a year, while the average American family of four tosses $1,365 to $2,275 per year. Food waste is one of the largest components of municipal solid waste and is a significant source of emissions (nearly 25 percent of U.S. methane emissions).
Many are working to curb this problem, from campaigns to end date label confusion, to zero-waste restaurants, to television shows, to selling “ugly produce.” Halving global food waste was indoctrinated in the new Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations. Grocery giant Sainsbury’s is investing £1 million over the course of this year in an effort to halve the food waste of one city in England. Campbell Soup Company and General Mills are currently running a competition in partnership with Net Impact to find new solutions for reducing food waste and improving food systems.
Luckily, many entrepreneurs see food waste as an opportunity. Some are using ugly produce in their products to prevent waste at the farm, while others are helping retailers and restaurants redistribute excess food. We have covered some of these before – such as Food Shift and Spoiler Alert in the U.S., Neighbourly, FareShare and FoodCloud in the UK, and FoodLoop in Germany – but more and more examples continue to emerge.
U.S. company Food Cowboy, for one, has developed an app that allows food companies to donate surplus food to nearby charities and organic waste to composters, farmers and biogas generators. Over 400 charity users and 200 donors, including growers, shippers and wholesalers, are currently using the app. It can also support food recovery programs for stores, restaurants and other food establishments.
“Current and proposed responses to food waste, including banning food waste from landfills and requiring retailers to donate 100 percent of their unsaleables, are not grounded in present logistical and economic realities,” said Barbara Cohen, co-founder of Food Cowboy. “Clearly, a coordinated industry response is required.”
Under recent changes to the U.S. tax code, Cohen also believes that donations make economic sense for the industry. Supply chain waste donations could reduce the industry’s “taxable income by up to US$6 billion a year and eliminate US$1.3 billion in disposal fees,” according to Cohen. “Recovering and donating just 7 percent of wasted food each year would allow the industry to take an additional US$485 million in deductions,” she said.
Cohen is not alone in her belief that the existing solutions are not working.
Finland-based Froodly has created an app that shows users about-to-expire supermarket products for discounts of between 30 and 70 percent. Shoppers can post pictures of products that have discounts in their supermarkets in exchange for rewards such as a free coffee or meal from a Foodly partner store. Currently, the startup is focused on ‘green consumers’ and students, but the team hopes to scale into a mass-market tool.
“Green consumers really buy into the mission and are ready to help reduce food waste, while students — some of which are also green consumers — really appreciate the cost savings associated with these products,” Clark explained.
Nick Papadopoulos, the CEO of California-based CropMobster, was motivated to start his company after witnessing food waste first-hand when managing his family’s farm. “I witnessed a lot of premium fresh produce going unsold and even undonated,” he said. “It really tore me up because I saw the love and investment that went into the effort from our farm’s perspective as a family business.”
CropMobster connects food producers and retailers who have surplus food with those who can use it by submitting alerts labeling them as deals or donations. Subscribers receive the alerts and contact the sellers and donors directly.
“It could be a high volume excess of old cheese or bread that needs to find a home with composters or pig farmers; a hunger-relief group looking for volunteers or equipment or more food donations; [or] a farmer trying to make a quick and easy donation of food,” Papadopoulos explained. “Whatever the specific [donor] alerts, the goal is to rapidly spread their alert, help them share their need.”
Meanwhile, South Africa-based AgriProtein Technologies is creating larvae feed from out-of-date produce from supermarkets and organic waste from food factories, restaurants and hotels. The company then sells the fly larvae they raise as feed for chickens and farm-raised fish.
The animal feed market is expected to grow as the global appetite for animal protein continues to grow; a problem that is being worked on by groups such as Forum for the Future’s Protein Challenge 2040 partners as well as and through other research and behavior change efforts. More environmentally-friendly feeds are just beginning to gain traction. Recent examples include Calysta’s FeedKind Protein made with the help of a ‘methane-eating’ bacteria and a partnership between biotech company Nutrinsic and brewer MillerCoors to use wastewater from the beer-making process as a feedstock for Nutrinsic’s ProFloc protein ingredient.
AgriProtein Technologies founder Jason Drew believes that fly larvae are a more natural choice, saying in Forbes, “Flies feed on the blood from animal slaughterhouses, the fly larvae is in turn eaten by the chickens farmed for human consumption. Since the industrial revolution, chickens have not been eating fly larvae. In order to make the process sustainable, you have to close the loop.”