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Waste Not
Dutch Task Force, Startups Among Latest to Join Food Waste Fight

As much as one third of the world’s food is being wasted. The United States alone wastes roughly 63 million tons, or $218 billion, of food annually. As awareness of this issue has grown over in recent years, a variety of initiatives have taken root.

As much as one third of the world’s food is being wasted. The United States alone wastes roughly 63 million tons, or $218 billion, of food annually. As awareness of this issue has grown over in recent years, a variety of initiatives have taken root. Much of this waste occurs at the farm and production level, prompting startups to spring up and create various monitoring and inspecting technologies.

AgShift is one such startup. The company has developed an app-based method of inspecting produce throughout the supply chain and speeding up the journey from farm to table by replacing the current time-consuming and subjective inspection process. The app is expected to deliver food of more consistent quality onto store shelves faster, in turn extending its shelf life in consumers’ homes and reducing food waste.

The California-based startup recently raised a $2 million seed round led by Indian venture capital firm Exfinity Ventures.

“Whether its strawberries or cashews, there is a well-defined spec for what parameters are needed to make the cut. We can make that whole process autonomous,” said founder Miku Jha, who recently completed her first pilot study with a major berry brand.

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After photographing strawberries, the AgShift app tells the user what percentage of red is in the photo, which speaks to how much shelf life is left. “If this goes to 90% then you have to make a call because you have very little life left,” Jha explained.

The app also measures size and proportion of bruising – which determines the USDA grade. Jha told AgFunderNews that the app cuts the inspection time roughly in half for each individual item inspected, does not replace any workers currently required in the process, and increases the capacity of any receiving team by up to 100%.

Reusable coffee cup Wasbeans tackles waste at a later stage. An estimated half-a-million tonnes (over 550,000 tons) of coffee grounds and nearly 3 billion paper cups are tossed each year in the UK alone. Wasbeans addresses both these waste streams: spent coffee grounds are used in the biocomposite it is made of, and it is a reusable and recyclable product.

Inventors Gareth Roberts and Dr. Xiaobin Zhao had an idea for a new kind of environmentally friendly plastic hat was partly made from waste organic matter and completely recyclable, but realized they would need an effective way to communicate it to people.

“Around that time there was a lot in the press about the problems with the coffee industry – both the disposal of the non-recyclable cups it was often sold in, and with the waste coffee grounds it produced,” Roberts said in an interview for the Design Council. “We saw an opportunity to apply the technology and solve those problems in one go. We envisaged a reusable, recyclable coffee cup made partly from coffee grounds. And an easy story to tell people to get the idea across.”

According to Edie, Wasbeans are “entering the final stages of production” and could be launched to U.K. markets in Autumn 2018 both for business use and in an “individual style” for customers.

Meanwhile, a group of 25 Dutch companies, research institutes and government bodies have formed a collective initiative called Samen tegen voedselverspilling (‘United against Food Waste’), which aims to halve food waste by 2030 in order to meet Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 12.3 in the Netherlands. Their efforts will be supported by a total of seven million euros over the coming four years in the form of investments in innovation, research, monitoring and education from the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality.

“Huge amounts of food are being wasted. This is especially serious when you consider how widespread poverty remains around the world, even in the Netherlands,” said Carola Schouten, Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. “There are places where people go to bed hungry. We need to learn how to better manage foodstuffs and the raw materials, labour and energy required for their production and transportation.

“There are opportunities in this process for many new and innovative ideas and initiatives. Less waste would also allow a significant reduction in CO2 emissions while saving money. In short, it would be good for the environment as well as the finances.”

“The members of the task force have worked hard over the past year to give concrete shape to their ambitions and approach. We can be proud of our integrative agenda, with a wide range of partners already forming new partnerships, launching interesting initiatives and achieving real results,” said Toine Timmermans, programme manager of Sustainable Food Chains at Wageningen University & Research.

“The task force shows that, if we all build together, with companies at the helm, it is possible to develop an ecosystem of solutions that will generate economic, environmental and social progress towards achieving the transition to a better and more circular food system.”