This post was originally published at The West Michigan Food Processing Association blog on November 2, 2022.
There are several sobering worldwide and domestic facts about the amount of food waste that is being generated. Worldwide here are some up to date annual statistics (1):
- One third of all food fit for human consumption is either lost or wasted
- Largest source of food waste is in the food production phase and amounts to 500 MM tons due to crop infestation, poor harvesting techniques, and insufficient irrigation
- Second and third largest sources of food waste are in the post harvesting and storage phase and consumption phase and amount to ~ 300MM tons of food waste each year
The US is a major contributor of food waste with these annual statistics (2):
- The US creates more food waste than any other country in the world, ~ 40 MM tons which represents about 30-40% of the overall US food supply
- The average amount of food waste generated per person equates to 219 lbs.
- Greater than 80% of Americans toss away perfectly consumable or good food because of a misunderstanding in food labelling such as “sell by; use buy; best before; best by; expires on” etc.
What crosses your mind as you reflect upon this data? Can anything be done to stop the amount of food waste we generate every year? A compelling thought is that the amount of food waste created each year could even feed a nation of needy and hungry people! However, with the current cost of energy, the rising rates of inflation, and ongoing food ingredient supply chain issues such as disruptions in wheat supply due to the war in Ukraine, the price and availability of food products may overshadow the existing food waste issues and concerns.
Improving bottom line performance for companies and enterprises in the food and beverage industry today is a challenge, but also represents an opportunity. Number one, food waste costs money! Given the current supply chain issues, addressing food waste issues in a constructive manner can enhance overall productivity and operations; reduce material, labor, energy, and transportation costs; increase efficiencies; improve margins; and capture lost profits. (3) With what lens can we look at the food waste dilemma?
How to Look at Food Waste? The Food Recovery Hierarchy!
The overall concerns for food waste should be viewed from both an individual as well as with a corporate lens and perspective. What can and should be done now from our collective individual efforts and corporate initiatives? One helpful lens is to view food waste in a pyramid fashion. The US EPA has created a Food Recovery Hierarchy which can be utilized to help develop strategies to combat overall food waste issues. (4)
- The most preferable choice and the one that provides the most significant opportunity is to pursue source reduction. This strategy can take place with the innovation and creativity. Establishing a reduction in the amount of surplus food produced should be a primary objective. Specific food waste reduction targets help mobilize and engage stakeholders in the overall process. Various action steps can range from improving forecasting, production, traceability, and supply chain processes and techniques to better education of the customer and the consumer. The first place to start is to conduct and complete an in-depth food waste audit.
- Next there is the opportunity to use safe and unused food to help feed others, such as with food donations to organizations that service residents in need. Many local non-profits and food pantries are in need of food for city residents and students, such as with free and reduced school programs.
- There are also the strategies to use food waste and scraps for animals and livestock as sources of feed. Important action steps include identifying the type of animals to be fed, conducting feasibility studies, and obtaining the required permits, licenses, and certifications for food scrap use to meet state guidelines.
- A growing number of possibilities now exist for the use of organic streams for industrial applications. One example includes organic food waste streams for methane gas production. There are also a growing number of biobased products that can be developed and commercialized such as fuels, polymers, and chemicals using various established processes.
- Composting food waste streams and scraps and other items such as fruits, vegetables, coffee grounds tec. offer both individuals and companies a way to enrich the soil for future uses. There are several composting processes that are available for use. The benefits of composting are many including improved crop yields, soil nutrient quality, and overall crop quality while decreasing water and fertilizer use. All these benefits are critical to regenerative farming.
- And at the end of the food product’s life cycle is the final option of land fill and incineration, but this choice should only be considered as a last resort and not viewed as one of convenience. Michigan has the most trash in landfills per capita in the US estimated at 62.4 tons. Food waste, yard trimmings, and MSW make up a significant proportion of our landfill disposal. A good portion of this waste could be diverted and used for composting.
There are enumerable positive results and benefits from strategically addressing overall food waste issues and concerns from point a corporate and individual point of view. Pursuing a circular economy mindset of reduction, recovery, recycling, reuse, remanufacture, and repurpose will help us all shift away from our linear “take, make, waste’ model. The opportunities and strategies to reduce food waste are numerous, but it will take our collective effort to create greater awareness and outreach as well as establish needed policies and guidelines to support continued momentum.
Wasted Food Statistics, www.theworldcounts.com
Food Waste in America in 2022, www.rts.com
Reduce Food Loss and Improve your Operations, www.foodbusineserp.com
U.S. EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy
All the best with your sustainability journey!