Food waste is an enormous problem in countries around the globe. In the United States alone, it is estimated that between 30 and 40 percent of the food supply goes to waste — much of it perfectly fresh and edible that is discarded just because it doesn’t look like the ideal apple or pear. How are companies innovating food waste solutions?
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Solutions in the Home
Many tech start-ups are working toward mass marketing techniques that will help reduce food waste in the home and on the supply chain as food moves from fields to manufacturing plants to grocery stores and then finally your fridge. How many times have you bought meat or produce, only to have it go bad within a day or two of purchase? The sheer amount of time that food spends in transit plays a large part of that, and tech and transportation startups have started to fight back.
BluWrap, for example, uses cells to monitor the oxygen content in shipping containers. By keeping the O2 level low, they can increase the food’s freshness window, enabling it to stay fresher while in transit. BT9 XSENSE is using IoT sensors and real-time cold-chain management to maximize quality and identify problems before the food ever reaches the grocery store. There is even a device that you can buy for your refrigerator that absorbs ethelyne gas — which is the gas that makes fruits and vegetables ripen — reducing food waste by preventing your produce from spoiling in the fridge.
Solutions in the Neighborhood
Good food is wasted every day, even though there are families who might not have any food in their fridge, whose kids rely on free breakfast and lunch at school to get a hot meal every day. Programs like Copia are hoping to change that. The work with facilities that cook a lot of food on a daily basis — like hospitals, restaurants, and cafeterias — to take their excess food to families that need it.
Getting seasonal produce is often a problem, especially in food deserts that might not have anything but a convenience store to do a grocery shopping. Startups like Leafy Green Machine, in conjunction with the Farmhand Connect smartphone app, are working toward creating closed-loop self-sustaining hydroponics that can be set up in a shipping container, moved anywhere and even monitored remotely to ensure a healthy and bountiful harvest.
Many smaller companies have realized what a big problem food waste is in our country, and have recognized that nothing is going to change until we take steps to change it, so they’re making inroads into the industry on a small scale that is growing larger by the year.
Solutions on a Larger Scale
What about all the food that goes to waste that isn’t fit for consumption? Produce that has spoiled in the fields or meat that has been contaminated by listeria or e.coli? It might not be edible, but it doesn’t have to be wasted. Some innovative companies are starting to take some of this spoiled food that would otherwise end up in landfills or incinerators generating more greenhouse gasses, and are turning it into fuel.
The food waste is put through an accelerated composting process, which turns it into a semi-liquid state that the folks at Waste Management call engineered bioslurry. From there, it is put into an anaerobic digester which is filled with bacteria that replicates the kind of decomposition that happens when the food is dumped in the landfill. This process produces methane, which can then be used to power a generator. One example generator exists in Freetown, Massachusetts. At full capacity, this single generator can power roughly 40 percent of the local grid.
This is just an example of what the technology can do on a small scale. Imagine what it could do if one or more of these generators were placed in every major city. They are also planning to incorporate technology that will allow customers on the local grid to use the methane gas produced to heat their homes, which could reduce local dependence on electricity or natural gas.
There is no one perfect solution for food waste. It is something that we will need to approach from multiple angles, which is precisely what these innovative companies are doing. We will all have to make an effort to reduce food waste. Whether that means investing in a startup that is doing just that or merely resolving to shop only at local farmer’s markets to minimize the distance that your food travels before it reaches your table is entirely up to you. There are steps that we can all take to reduce our food waste, but it will take everyone working together to stop the massive amount of food that is wasted around the world every single day. Start small, by composting, recycling or looking into green solutions in your area.