It’s a well known fact that your eyes eat before your mouth does, making us crave more than what we can intake and resulting in a 1.3 billion tonnes of food waste per year: when converted into calories, global food loss and waste amounts to approximately 24% of all food produced. Whether supermarkets, restaurants or households, the trash can ends up being filled with food that could feed 800 million hungry mouths. Finally, however, it seems like big business and social startups alike are realizing the importance of reducing food waste.
From Food to Fuel
Earlier this year UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s partnered with UK food recycling initiative ReFood to convert wasted food into gas and use it to power some of its branches.
“As part of the agreement, food waste is collected from Sainsbury’s’ two depots in Sherburn-in-Elmet and Haydock, before being converted into gas, heat and fertilizer at ReFood’s state-of-the-art anaerobic digestion (AD) processing facilities,” the company says. “The green gas is then exported to the national gas grid by ReFood and, through a third party, is imported by Sainsbury’s stores nationwide – being used to generate carbon-neutral electricity for power and heating.”
The supermarket chain stated that the energy generated from food waste during 2015 was enough to power 5,000 homes, around 10% of the supermarket’s annual gas consumption. Since beginning this initiative and up until May 2016, Sainsbury’s supplied almost 50 million KWh of biomethane gas.
UK households contribute some seven million tonnes to the country’s annual 12 million tonnes of food waste. The government has taken several step to cut down food waste with supermarkets promising to eliminate food waste by 20% by 2025.
They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure and reflecting this idea, a new wave supermarkets that service only wasted and ugly food are finding success, catering to a new client base that looks beyond how appealing the food looks.
DanChurchAid, a Danish organization that aims to help those in need, opened Wefood supermarket. The non-profit supermarket sells food at a 30% to 50% discount. Denmark’s food waste amounts to 700,000 tonnes.
“Wefood sells goods that regular supermarkets can no longer sell due to overdue ‘best before’ dates, incorrect labels or damaged packaging,” DanChurchAid says, explaining that “products found in Wefood are still edible and safe to consume according to the Danish food legislation, but have simply lost their value to the partner donating them.”
Due to the fact that the supermarket is operated on donated food, clients can expect a range of different products on a daily basis.
A similar concept is being implemented in France when supermarket chains Intermarché sold “inglorious” food at 30% discount. Meanwhile, American Whole Foods supermarket has devoted a section for imperfect, crooked “ugly food” at lower prices.
The Food Sharing Economy
Several startup companies have joined the movement, acting as a liaison between those who throw away the food and those who need it. Olio, a UK-based company, developed a mobile application that curbs food waste, or, as the company states, started a “food sharing revolution.”
Founded by Tessa Cook and Saasha Celestial-One who met during their time studying business at Stanford University in California, the idea was inspired by the lack of ease and available information on people in need of food.
Users download the application, write down their home address and are exposed to food shared by their neighbors. Food soon to be expired should be listed with a photo. The company has drop boxes located in several shops and restaurants around the country, allowing neighborhoods to share food with each other.
The company lists some of the drop boxes rules such as: those dropping of food for people should write the name of the person collecting the food package and those making request should always collect their food. Any produce is sold for at least 50% off its original price.
“Only pre-packed foods (tinned, packets, etc) in their original, intact packaging are accepted as well as any small non-food items,” the company says. “Do not take anything without your name on them.”
Too Good to Go (TGTG) is another example of these apps in the UK. Restaurants provide their leftovers and clients order form the app. User log on and use a restaurant then buy food. The food is packed in new boxes and customers can pick it up after lunch or dinner services for a fraction of the price. An average dish costs between GBP £2 and GBP £3.80.
Both apps have been gaining accelerating momentum. Since its launch in January, Olio has over 50,000 people who have shared more than 100,000 items. As for TGTG, the app is expanding in six new countries.
A new and notable trend is to convert wasted food into something else. German Startup company Fopo heads to farms and collects fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be wasted because they’re too ripe or ugly. The company then washes the produce and turns it into dried powder. The powder can be used to add flavor to cooked dishes, smoothies, yogurt or baked products.
“That way, we maximize logistics by transporting compact-friendly powders while also preserving nutrients by up to 90%,” the company says. “Our goal is to save as much food, preserve its nutrition and feed as many people as we can.” The shelf-life of the Fopo packages is up to two years.
American Re-Nuble is another company seeking to make “yesterday’s leftovers into tomorrow’s abundance,” through converting wasted food into cheap and organic fertilizers. The fertilizer can then be used, along with water, to grow plants in soil-less environments.
“We source organic waste for community farms and restaurants. Unlike conventional hydroponic growth products, our plant food formulas help produce plant yields with zero chemical additives, all at a fraction of the cost of other plant nutrients,” the company says.