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Towards a sustainable future, fighting food waste

SustainabilityPublic Affairs
Towards a sustainable future, fighting food waste
Grace Donnellan

By Grace Donnellan, Account Executive, Public Policy Dublin

Food waste is a significant contributor to climate change. As the climate crisis becomes more and more of a political, economic and societal priority, it is vital that innovative solutions are put forward to try and create a more sustainable future.

With inflation continuing to rise and world leaders discussing the climate crisis at COP27, the economic and environmental benefits of reducing food waste are more relevant than ever. Minimising food waste is a key step in our journey towards tackling climate change. Reduced food waste is also an important means by which businesses can lower overheads and consumers can save money.

Food waste and the environment

 According to the UN Environmental Programme’s Waste Index Report 2021, around 931 million tonnes of food waste was generated in 2019. This food waste has negative consequences socially, economically and particularly environmentally. It is estimated that up to 8 – 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that is not consumed.

Globally, reducing wasted food has been referenced as a key initiative in ensuring a sustainable food future. Food waste has been included in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 12 which addresses “Responsible Consumption and Production”. This includes two indicators to measure, and ultimately reduce, global food loss and food waste. In particular, Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 states: “By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains”.

The cost of food waste

Reducing food waste can also have consequential economic benefits for businesses, consumers and the global economy. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN has estimated that the economic value of food wasted globally is approximately 1000 billion US dollars per year. For the consumer, higher waste is associated with influencing demand, which then leads to increases in the price of food. Higher food costs are particularly problematic in the current cost of living crisis. It can be easy for businesses and retailers to ignore food waste. Nonetheless, each tonne of wasted food can cost them approximately €2000 – €5000. With businesses and retailers facing rising costs and inflation, engaging with technology and initiatives surrounding food waste could save them a significant sum of money per year. Furthermore, working with social enterprises like FoodCloud is a great way for businesses to connect and give back to their local community.

Reducing wasted food

A number of technological innovations have been created in an effort to alleviate these problems and change the way we think about food waste generally.

Founded in Denmark, Too Good to Go is a social impact company working across Europe and the United States. Their main initiative is a food waste app which allows cafes, shops, delis and restaurants to sell surplus food, which would otherwise be disposed of, to users at a reduced price. Their ethos is one of sustainability. With over 19 million registered users it is clear that this kind of initiative resonates with consumers while also allowing retailers to recover what would otherwise be sunk costs.

FoodCloud is a social enterprise working in Ireland and the UK to “transform surplus food into opportunities to make the world a better place”. Through FoodCloud retailers upload a description of food they can’t sell using an in-store scanner or the FoodCloud smartphone app, a local charity then receives a notification and can go and collect the food. This benefits both the charities involved and the retailers.

It is clear that technology can provide simple solutions to food waste which benefit businesses, the consumer and society at large.

The future of food waste

Often, businesses cannot help having food waste left over at the end of the day no matter how well they try to predict what stock they will need. However, as technology in this space continues to grow and develop, our attitude towards food waste may change.  It is clear that there is the opportunity for even more technological advances in this space. Some companies are already utilising artificial intelligence (AI) to measure and manage the amount of food they waste. It is not farfetched to imagine that, with the right investment, AI could be the solution to the problem of food waste by analysing consumer behaviour and businesses waste patterns.

Smart initiatives and partnerships can find value in food waste and reduce its environmental impact. As technology continues to develop in this field, it is worthwhile that companies maintain an awareness of these developments. Partnering with initiatives like Too Good To Go and FoodCloud can be a significant and innovative way for companies to show that they are forward-thinking while demonstrating a real commitment to sustainability.

Discover more emerging trends on attitudes and behaviours around sustainability in our Climate Change Report

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