Increased awareness of food waste and its impact on society and the environment is changing consumer behaviour and food manufacturing processes. Start-ups, government initiatives and cutting-edge technologies are working to convert food waste into something edible.
The world today faces what is called the “triple burden of malnutrition: hunger, undernutrition and obesity”. Some statistics:
- 1/3 of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year- approximately 1.3 billion tonnes – gets lost or wasted.
- U.S. consumers waste up to 50% more food than they did in the 1970s.
- Fruits and vegetables have the highest wastage rates of any food. In some countries, it adds up to 50% of the fruits and vegetables produced.
- U.K. supermarkets wasted 235,000 tonnes of food in 2015, of which around half was avoidable and in edible condition.
- Only 3% of wasted food by U.K. supermarkets in good condition is donated to feed the needy.
- Food production is struggling to keep up with the global population growth. If nothing is done, we are at risk of running out by 2050.
Farmed to form
Over 50% of vegetables and fruits are discarded because they don’t look perfect, even though they’re perfectly fine to eat. Social movements are raising awareness of imperfect food and educating consumers to look beyond the surface. Supermarkets like Intermarché in France, for example, sell imperfect produce at a much cheaper price to encourage consumption.
Start-ups are also doing their bit to curb food waste. Rubies in the Rubble, a U.K. based start-up, creates relish and chutneys out of food that would otherwise be wasted. The Real Junk Food Project is a global, organic network of pay-what-you-like cafes that converts food destined for landfills into delicious meals. There are already 125 of these cafés dotted throughout the U.K., Australia, Europe and America and we can expect more in the near future.
“Wasting food has become so normal there is now no stigma attached to throwing food away.”
This was the shocking truth discovered behind British super-market chain Sainsbury’s recent study on food waste patterns. In response, the chain committed to distributing one million fridge thermometers to ensure fridges stay at the optimum temperature to pro-long the life of fresh food.
U.K. households discard the equivalent of six good meals a week, largely due to being unaware of what can and can’t be frozen and for how long. Here’s a cold fact: Freezing does not alter the taste of food and freezers limit food waste.
Freezer technology will evolve with speed-freezing functions and improvements to eliminate freezer burns and icing. We will see more ‘walk-in freezers’ in restaurant kitchens filled with produce bought in season and therefore at a lower price.
Likewise, ‘smart fridges’ now in development will play a crucial role in reducing food waste. These fridges can be linked to a mobile phone, giving users access to the contents of their fridge while in the supermarket so they can avoid impulse purchases or over buying.
Consumers are changing their behaviour as they become more aware of the food waste issue. Schools are also focusing on the problem. In Leeds in the U.K., both private and public schools have started food waste programmes and finding solutions. The Fuel for Food Project, for example, converts wasted food into breakfasts for primary school students.
The online app Too Good To Go further illustrates consumer awareness.
The app allows users to buy leftover food from restaurants or connects them with other shoppers nearby who have bought items in bulk or accidentally bought too much.
Sell-by dates are also responsible for food waste. 84% of American consumers admit to discarding food after the recommended use-by date. These labels are not indicators of safety, but of freshness. The best way to understand this is through cooking. Cooking with leftovers will force home cooks to think outside the box, using a hodgepodge of ingredients to create a fresh new dish. In fact, Americans could rescue about 8 million pounds of food every year otherwise doomed by their use-by dates.
Governments are also regulating against companies that dump food in landfills. In America, five states and several cities have already introduced ‘landfill bans’ to reduce food waste. In February, France banned supermarkets from discarding edible foods, making food donations to food banks or charities obligatory.
Groundbreaking technology is helping to reduce food waste. Scientists at Hong Kong’s City University, for example, developed a bio-refinery process that converts food waste into textile fibres. The discovery could help manage the 3,600 tonnes of food waste produced in Hong Kong every day.
Another invention, the ‘BioDigester’, converts food and paper waste into biofuel, which is combusted to generate heat, electricity or even renewable gas. In our fight against food waste, we will continue to see innovative processes that limit leftovers and recycle valuable resources.
About the source
This article is part of CatchOn Communications’ third annual ‘Future of Food’ report that explores many of the changes now taking place in the culinary world. Request a full version of the report by emailing [email protected].