Wasted Food: Challenges and Opportunities

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “World Hunger is on the rise; yet, an estimated 1/3 of all food produced globally is lost or goes to waste.” Food Tank, led by Refresh Working Group (RWG) member Danielle Nierenberg, has played a key role in chronicling and advancing the struggle to eliminate food waste, a problem they characterize in stark terms: “Food waste has economic, environmental, and social repercussions, some of which are not yet quantifiable. Financially, approximately US$1 trillion of food is wasted annually. Environmentally, food waste is a drain on water resources, takes up valuable agricultural land, and negatively impacts biodiversity. Socially, wasted food equates to food that could be eaten by vulnerable populations or growing global populations.” In the United States alone, the USDA estimates that up to 40% of the nation’s food supply is wasted.

RWG members from across the food system are working to develop new technologies and approaches to reducing waste. Through their “Whole Crop Harvest” program, recently presented to leaders from the EU in Brussels, RWG member Dr. Dara Bloom and other researchers at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems are “tak[ing] a supply chain approach—with research and education activities along the supply chain from farm through intermediary buyers and commercial food preparers—with the goal of identifying and piloting economically efficient ways to minimize production loss, and, in turn, augment farm revenues.” In a similar vein, The Sustainable Food Lab’s work identifies “hotspots” in supply chains where different crops suffer the highest rates of loss.

These efforts also dovetail with products developed by other RWG members like FARMWAVE, whose app helps farmers protect their crops and increase yields by 20-30 percent, and Agrisource Data, which uses  AI and machine learning “ across the entire seed-to-shelf spectrum” to help parts of “the world facing food and water scarcity.”

The role of technology in confronting food scarcity extends beyond the farm. Food Tank details the role supermarkets could play by collecting and sharing data about wasted food. The products they stock can also make a difference; Fair Food Network’s Fair Food Fund has invested in Radicle, a company that grows and wholesales live salad greens with “twice the shelf life of bagged salad products.” New Hope Network discusses how more accurate expiration dates on products could help reduce food waste, while Food Tank also highlights the need for better food packaging to prevent spoilage.

In the spirit of its broader mission to improve food security, The Hunger Solutions Institute at Auburn University has also worked to address food waste, promoting high-level discussions through its Presidents United Against Hunger (PUSH) initiative and creating resources to help limit food waste on university campuses. New Hope Network even puts a specific figure on the untapped economic potential of wasted food: 18 billion dollars.

At Refresh @ SXSW, RWG members Michelle Miller, Ben Worley, and Joi Chevalier will be joined by Jasmine Crowe and moderator Mayukh Sen to discuss the food access issues at the heart of these significant challenges and opportunities. Chef Anthony Myint will join us later, discussing his restaurant The Perennial and its efforts to create systems designed to curb food waste. With this range of voices, the event should provide a forum for advancing a number of innovative approaches to limiting waste throughout the food system.

Read more about groups reducing food waste in Refresh Food + Tech: From Soil to Supper.

Diana Huang
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