Reducing Food Waste

A lot of food is wasted. In fact, in the United States, Americans, on average, waste 25 percent of their food. How might we reduce, reroute, and/or reuse this massive amount of food waste?

Absolutely agree! I think this should be one of the top subdomains in food.

I think it’s a great point, and should definitely be considered as one of the leading sub-domains in this field. So much food is being produced today, with so much of it going to waste.

@lancemcneill -
Is there any reading material on this matter that you would recommend? Any organizations that are already trying to mitigate this issue?

I agree food waste is a really important issue. But is it a subdomain? In our Future of Food Impact Roadmap we called it out both as an environmental and an equity problem. However, we grouped it as a challenge under “Managing Food Systems within Environmental Limits.” So i guess the question(s) that i think we need to answer is/are: how and why food waste is a problem? And by “food waste” do we mean food waste at consumption, or also food loss during production?

The latest food waste index report 2021:

Thank you, @crointel. That’s bound to be useful!

Which parts of the report would you reommend we focus on, to support the importance of this sub domain?

Reusing food waste or waste food to generate energy, fertilizers or other useful products, therefore, benefit circular economy?

ReFed is doing great work in this area: Food Waste Recycling Analysis, Reduce Food Waste & Food Recovery - ReFED

Thank you. We’ll look into that!

I wholeheartedly agree! I personally believe food waste (throughout the entire food production chain) is one of the major challenges of our future on Earth. I work in the field of space exploration where every single resource is treated as extremely valuable. We develop bioregenerative ecosystems in which all human waste is captured, broken down, and then transformed into nutrients for crops and algae. Such circular and resourceful thinking is a huge contrast with the scale of food waste on our planet. Here’s a few highlights from the UN WFP:

  • Approximately $1 trillion of food is lost or wasted every year — accounting for roughly one-third of the world’s food.
  • If wasted food were a country, it would be the third largest producer of carbon dioxide in the world, after the U.S. and China.
  • Roughly 30 to 40 percent of the food supply in the US is wasted, which works out to more than 20 pounds of food per person per month.

If we really want to be serious about building a sustainable and thriving future, this is a place to start.

@AngeloVermeulen -
That’s fantastic! I love the way you transfer knowledge from one field (space exploration) to that of food security.

Do you think your research colleagues in this field would be interested in joining the discussion here? I would really like to hear from other knowledgeable people in this topic.

If it is clear that their efforts here would effectively contribute to a concrete challenge, I think I could get a few people interested. Not so much for the current open-ended and more explorative discussions.

Reducing Food Waste seems to be a multi-faceted problem. We need to break it down into discrete problems. I have been exploring the possibility of using block chain technology in tackling the food waste problem. In this regard I contaced Paul Brody, who writes about block chain technology. Brody immediately got back to me to tell me in general block chain technology would not be useful in his opinion. the simple reason is that food is regarded by private industry as cheap and presumably too cheap to justify block chain technology.

I am not in a position to argue with Brody because I know so little about food costs or block chain technology. But even if Brody is correct in general, it seems we can make some headway with specific foodstuffs. Quite simply, not all food stuffs are inexpensive. I do not mean caviar when I talk about this issue. But coffee, at least at the retail end, is certainly not cheap. Neither are herbs and spices we use to flavor food. Fish at least some favorite varieties are not inexpensive eitheras anyone who shops for smoked salmon knows. I am sure we can think of numerous other examples.

The point is that block chain technology can probably be applied to specific agricultural products. It would help stabilize prices because it would help stabilize production by providing a better integration of demand and production. That could be immensely valuable in many societies, it seems to me, where the income from high price crops is important to the country’s ability to feed its people. I am thinking of countries such as Malagasy which is a major producer of vanilla. But cocoa producers such as Ghana certainly are also pertinent. And the list goes on. We may not be able to solve the problem of food waste in general but if we can eliminate the problem with crops that are both economically important to their producer nations and consumers then I think we have made some real progress,

I guess we could ask them to join for the more focused parts of the design process.

I like your thinking, but allow me to be the devil’s advocate for a moment here. You mentioned food items like coffee, spices, and vanilla. For these kinds of food, I daresay there is very little food waste.

As for other food items and components, maybe there is a place for a blockchain-based system for self-regulating their use. The problem is that at the moment, creating and maintaining a blockchain-based platform simply costs too much. But maybe if we had more efficient systems, we could make that happen.

Dutch company working to reduce food waste. It’s an app that sends you food that’s close to expiry:

1 Like

Excellent observation about the fact that for coffee, vanilla etc. (high value items) we see very little food waste. Exactly what Paul Brody told. me My point is that for these items we do a block chain (If feasible) algorithm to compleely rationalize the market. Then for the countries that depend on these items for their foreign currency we help them acquire the infrastructure–schools, roads, modern seaports and airports etc.–that they need to develop their economies, including using green energy for their electric power generation, modern farming methods to increase food production and reduce waste. Wasted food as the discussion so far has pointed out becomes air and maybe water pollution. So a key to reducing pollution in many developing countries is helping them develop by rationalizing the production of those goods they have a comparative advantage in producing. In other words, block chain technology would be an indirect, albeit important, possible form of assistance in reducing food waste and climate change . It is an example of the old proverb that “Sometimes long way around is the short way home.”

1 Like

Pre-harvest food loss is a very different issue/solution than post-harvest. They both have environmental and equity consequences. As far as I can tell, pre-harvest waste requires a scientific solution and post-harvest requires a societal solution.

According to BCC Research, the pesticide market (both synthetic and bio) should reach $79.3 billion by 2022 (up from $61.2 billion in 2017). Benefits of crop protection include more food production, using less land, and preservation of resources. Synthetic pesticides dominate the market but biocontrol measures are gaining traction. Biocontrol is significantly underfunded. But, we are starting to see a required shift to biocontrol. For example, when looking at herbicides, we are seeing a dramatic increase in weed resistance to synthetic herbicides (eg. when Glyphosate was introduced in 1974 and at the time could kill almost all weeds…there are now over two dozen weeds that have developed glyphosate resistance). Additionally, in 2019, there were 14,000 lawsuits filed against RoundUp (Glyphosate)…there are environmental concerns building against synthetic herbicides and the EU is increasing restrictions.

I’d love to see more conversation about biocontrol and pre-harvest loss prevention. Within the scope, there are both environmental and equity. We see the equity issue rise internationally…smallholder farms have very few solutions and harvest losses due to diseases, animal pests, weeds, and climate stresses amount to about 35% of the total possible product.

I’m not sure how you are defining a subdomain. I’d definitely consider pre-harvest biological solutions having tremendous potential impact on food security, energy, GHG emissions, nutrition, equity, gender, etc. (equal or greater than say synthetic meat).

Our bioherbicide was officially registered for commercial use in Kenya last month…making it one of only a handful of commercialized products in the world. The time is ripe to challenge more researchers! Here is some press from the last month:

1 Like

Thank you, Claire! Very helpful information. Completely agree with the distinction you make pre-harvest vs. post-harvest. I’d also add that we need to break down these two categories further since, and as you indicate, there are different drivers of pre-harvest and post-harvest food loss/waste.