Whatever the metric, all corners of the culinary world, and anyone interested in sustainability and helping one’s fellow man or woman agree—there is too much food waste while people still go hungry. Numbers don’t lie.
Each year more than $218 billion, or 1.3 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, is spent on food that’s never eaten, according to a 2016 report from ReFED, a group working to end food waste in the U.S. And, while that data can seem overwhelming and somewhat paralyzing, in recent years there have been many technological and charitable efforts to end the plague of hunger. Technology solutions focus on creating efficiencies in the supply chain which can be easily applied as part of supplier or commercial food purveyor’s daily operation.
Winnow, for example, is a UK startup that provides commercial operators the Winnow Waste monitor which consists of a scale and application. The goal is to track waste by weighing food headed for the trash heap and adding that data to the cloud. Over time, the system’s algorithm provides analysis to allow an establishment to order more efficiently. Winnow founder Mark Zornes told TechCrunch that he believes food waste makes up between five and 20 percent of all purchased inventory. Once implemented, the company CEO adds that the waster monitor can reduce food purchasing costs from between three and eight percent.
Working at the farm level, California-based AgTools uses IBM Watson technology to supply farmers with a plethora of data such as weather reports, commodity pricing, and consumer trends. Armed with such information, farmers can focus on crops that have market demand and understand which channels to the consumer will lead to the most profits. Predicting market trends will cut down on waste by tackling surpluses at the beginning of the value chain.
“Large corporations supply to the retailers and control the data back and forth,” Martha Montoya, chief executive officer and founder of AgTools LLC told the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette. “Now the growers and the retailers are going to be able to have the same data.”
And then there are companies tackling the issue of food waste by harvesting byproducts from food production and transforming material headed for the landfill into fresh produce or consumer edibles. Known as upcycling, ReGrained, based in San Francisco, gathers grain from breweries and turns it healthy snacks. Following a similar path, Brooklyn-based RISE Products gathers unspent barley from local brewers and sells it to bakers in the area for use in their baked goods. A staple at local markets, Joe’s Organics in Austin, takes waste headed for the landfill, composts it and then uses the resulting matter to grow spouts and microgreens.
Using technology in the form of social media as a megaphone to volunteers, donors and those in need, organizations such as Feeding the 5000 work with local non-profits to show how food headed for the landfill can be repurposed for meals to feed the hungry. In Austin, for example, working with two local chefs, everything from pasta to poultry that was headed for the garbage was gathered from local grocery stores, restaurants and food manufacturers and cleverly converted to a hearty chicken stew and vegetarian pasta salad. Set up on the Texas State Capital Lawn, anyone hungry was invited to grab a bowl and dig in and illustrate live the phrase “waste not, want not.”