We Need to Get Smarter About Food Waste
Updated: Dec 17, 2019
This Friday is International Clean Out Your Fridge Day. For many of us, we put off reaching to the back of our refrigerators and pulling out all those junky bottles of sauce that expired years ago. In terms of household chores, it’s right down there with mowing the lawn in July. Yet, every day we easily throw out wilted spinach, mouldy tomatoes, and bruised bananas without even thinking. In fact, the FAO notes consumers in the developed world throw out an average of one-third of all produce they purchase. Even worse, up to 50% of this food is actually still edible. You might as well just throw your hard-earned money in the bin.
When we drill down into the Asian region, the picture isn’t much prettier. Asia accounts for over 50% of all the world’s food waste. Yes, half of everything wasted comes from the region with the highest rates of malnutrition and starvation. Although China is a major culprit, throwing out enough food each year to feed 100 million people, the Middle Kingdom isn’t alone. Along with Japan and South Korea, these three countries make up 28% of the world’s food waste. South and South-East Asia, including places like India, Singapore, and Indonesia, make up another 25%.
Where, though, is all this waste coming from? Certainly, individual consumers are a big part of the problem. Purchasing too much at once, improper storage, and not understanding the difference between edible and rotten foods all contribute to the waste coming from households around the world. In developed countries per capita waste hovers around 115 kg a year. Then, we have private companies like restaurants and grocery stores. Cornell University found restaurants waste 10% of food before it even gets to diners, who then leave 20% of their food behind after they pay the check. Nearly 90% of this is then thrown out (with only 1% being given to the needy). Buffets, of course, are even worse. Grocery stores in the U.S., for example, throw out 43 billion pounds of food a year while another 20 billion pounds gets trashed on farms.
Sure, these numbers are startling and should be a call to action for anyone in the food and beverage industry. From a budget perspective, all of this points to a loss of revenue and poor operational oversight. The issue, though, is only going to get worse over time. As the world is on track to feed 10 billion mouths by 2050 – an additional 3 billion to today – food security is increasingly critical. How can we produce more food for more people without more arable land? One solution is to stop wasting what we’re currently producing. TSI attended and spoke at the inaugural Global Table in Melbourne this past September. The key message from all speakers, including former Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Mars Chief Agricultural Officer Dr. Howard Yana-Shapiro, was the criticality of food security, systems, and sustainable development.
It seems the world’s brightest minds are trying their best to address the issue. Around the world, savvy entrepreneurs and inventors are finding innovative ways to combat food waste. In Asia, a number of these initiatives are making significant headway.
Artificial intelligence is one way companies are able to monitor, track, and reduce waste at scale. Both Winnow and Good for Food are using sophisticated intelligence trackers to help restaurant and industrial kitchens deal with what ends up in the bin. Their scanners can identify individual products, their weight, and how often something is thrown away. Through this, kitchens can figure out what they actually need to stock.
In Japan, Sagamiya Foods are harnessing technology to streamline supply chain production of tofu. The company noticed early on the impact of climate change on crop production. They are now using weather pattern data to balance potential yields with consumer demand. This has led to cost savings for the company and less waste in their production.
Oftentimes, farms will throw out crops which are not cosmetically beautiful as consumers tend not to buy them. This accounts for much of the farm waste around the world. Instead, Singapore’s UglyFood is working to combat the prevalence of “insta-worthy” food making it to supermarket shelves. They are educating farmers, supply chain managers, and individuals on why imperfect food is just as nutritious and safe as anything you find on social media.
At TSI, we’re also working to change the food and beverage industry for the better. Our proprietary data analytics tool, Navigator, is able to help F&B brands predict future flavour, product, and pack trends for the Asian market. In doing so, we’re reducing unnecessary waste in the product development process and across food supply chains. This, we hope, will play an increasingly successful role in making sure the world has enough food to go around.