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  • Writer's pictureMohit Chandak

Food waste

Globally, around 14 percent of food produced is lost between harvest and retail. This equates to a loss of $400 billion per year in food value, while an estimated 17 percent of total global food production is wasted (11 percent in households, 5 percent in the food service and 2 percent in retail). Food loss and waste account for up to 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Putting a serious dent in food loss and waste will slow climate change, protect nature and increase food security.

What to expect today

  • Impact of food loss and waste

  • Startups tackling food waste

Impact of food loss and waste

Image Source: Photo by Sarah Chai from Pexels

Before we continue with this edition we first need to understand the difference between food loss and food waste:

  • Food Loss refers to food that gets spilled, spoiled or lost, or incurs reduction of quality and value during its process in the food supply chain before it reaches its final product stage. Food loss typically takes place at production, post-harvest, processing, and distribution stages in the food supply chain.

  • Food waste refers to food that completes the food supply chain up to a final product, of good quality and fit for consumption, but still doesn't get consumed.

Impact on Environment

Food loss and waste is estimated to be roughly 1/3rd of the food intended for human consumption in the United States. When food is discarded, all inputs used in producing, processing, transporting, preparing, and storing discarded food are also wasted. Food loss and waste also exacerbates the climate change crisis with its significant greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint. (Also read our article on methane here)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that each year, U.S. food loss and waste embodies 170 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent GHG emissions (~15% the carbon footprint of Africa just from food waste!) - this is excluding sustained landfill emissions – equal to the annual CO2 emissions of 42 coal-fired power plants. EPA data show that food waste is the single most common material landfilled and incinerated in the U.S., comprising 24 and 22 percent of landfilled and combusted municipal solid waste, respectively.

Cradle to crate

Image Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Research and Development

As shown in the figure, primary production is responsible for the widest range of environmental inputs among the stages of the food supply chain is also the biggest contributor to GHG emissions. Contrary to popular belief, waste from consumption of food only accounts for 4% of total emissions from food loss and waste.

In the next section we will look at startups and how they innovating to tackle the problem of food loss and waste.

Startups tackling food waste

Image Source: Photo by Rachel Claire

There’s no one solution that will fix our food waste problem. Instead, the winning formula might be a combination of:

  • Preventing food loss at the source

  • Redistributing unsold or excess food

  • Repurposing food waste, whether into new products or a source of energy

In this section we look at three startups in each of these categories:

  • Ripe Locker

  • Misfits market

  • Bio-bean

RipeLocker - preventing food loss at source

RipeLocker, a company based out of Washington, uses a unique, patented dynamic technology that precisely manages the internal atmosphere (pressure, humidity, and oxygen) inside the container, to extend the postharvest life of perishables stored inside. Tailored with specific operating parameters to optimize the freshness of every type of perishable, its remotely-monitored system responds to changes in the storage or shipping environment and makes precise adjustments to prevent damage and reduce decay within each RipeLocker. It has raised a total of $8.3M in funding over 4 rounds.

Misfits Market - redistributing unsold or excess food

Misfits Market, a company based out of New Jersey, is dedicated to making affordable, high-quality food more accessible while helping break the cycle of food waste. They work directly with farmers and makers to rescue organic produce and other grocery items that might otherwise go to waste, then deliver them to the doors of customers—all while passing the savings on to you. Every Misfits Market box you order benefits farmers, helps prevent food waste, and ultimately helps save our environment. It has raised a total of $526.5M in funding over 4 rounds.

Bio-bean - repurposing food waste

Bio-bean is a company that has industrialized the process of recycling waste coffee grounds into advanced biofuels, biomass pellets and, in the near future, biodiesel. The company is located in London, England and has built the world's first waste coffee recycling factory in Cambridgeshire. It has raised a total of $7.5M in funding over 5 rounds.

Recommendations from the team

  • World Wildlife - Check out the Food Waste Quiz

  • Great Big Story - Tackling Food Waste With Five Leaders in Sustainability (14 min video)

  • Business Insider - How Rotting Vegetables Make Electricity | World Wide Waste (6 min video)

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