Abstract

Food Science and TechnologyVolume 35, Issue 1 p. 40-45 FeaturesFree Access Cutting edge technologies to end food waste First published: 18 March 2021 https://doi.org/10.1002/fsat.3501_11.xAboutSectionsPDF ToolsExport citationAdd to favoritesTrack citation ShareShare Give accessShare full text accessShare full-text accessPlease review our Terms and Conditions of Use and check box below to share full-text version of article.I have read and accept the Wiley Online Library Terms and Conditions of UseShareable LinkUse the link below to share a full-text version of this article with your friends and colleagues. Learn more.Copy URL Share a linkShare onFacebookTwitterLinked InRedditWechat Our current food system is unsustainable. Jean Billant of ReLondon provides an overview of the wide range of technologies that are emerging to address the wastage of food and encourage a circular economy approach. The food waste problem We have become accustomed to finding the food we want, at the time we want it, and this has been made possible through successive technological changes and breakthroughs in the food supply chain. From mechanised agriculture, high-yielding cereal seeds, synthetic fertilisers and pesticides to just–in-time logistics and refrigerated transportation, all the features of our modern food system are rooted in the advances of thermodynamics, chemistry, biology and other technological revolutions. But this modern food system – the one we all rely on every day to bring us nourishment and pleasure, which has supported a fast-growing population and fuelled economic development and urbanisation – is unsustainable. It is using up the planet's reserves of non-renewable mineral resources, polluting our air, water and soils, depleting groundwater reserves, causing excessive soil erosion and contributing to climate change. Today's food supply chain creates 13.7bn tons of CO2eq, 26% of anthropogenic GHG emissions1 (food waste alone represents 8%2). Nearly one-third of global food production – 1.3bn tonnes of food – is lost along the supply chain or wasted by consumers and retailers. That is more than five times the entire food production of sub-Saharan Africa and enough food to feed approximately 1.6bn people3. When food is thrown away, all the inputs associated with its production (e.g. energy, water and fertilisers, land) are also wasted. In addition, most of the wasted food is sent to landfill or to be incinerated in energy from waste plants, emitting greenhouse gases. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has estimated that only 2% of organic waste is recovered through composting and anaerobic digestion, which means that precious nutrients embodied in food are lost (Figure 1). Figure 1Open in figure viewerPowerPoint .Ellen MacArthur Foundation - Cities and Circular Economy for food report The circular economy opportunity Tackling food waste is clearly a unique opportunity to reduce costs and the negative impacts on the environment. Taking action on waste prevention has been ranked by Project Drawdown (a non-profit organisation that seeks to help the world reach ‘Drawdown’— the future point in time when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline) as the most impactful solution to mitigate climate change4, with the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 70 gigatons by 2050. Boston Consulting Group has estimated that tackling food waste is a ‘$700bn opportunity’5. At the same time, emerging technologies are disrupting many industries at an unprecedented speed and scale. In the race against time to dramatically reduce anthropogenic GHG emissions and put our society back within planetary boundaries, it is essential to harness the potential of these technologies to solve some of the biggest challenges, such as food waste. Why is food being wasted? But first, it is important to understand the root causes of food waste. Demand for food can be difficult to forecast and therefore difficult to match with supply. The type and quantity of food we crave is influenced by a plethora of factors, from weather to store promotions, recipe trends to personal finances. Food surpluses then result as regular supply chains are disrupted or struggle to keep up with the changes. Abundant harvests may create over-supply, affecting prices and therefore purchasing behaviour. The lack of a system for dealing with such excess often results in perfectly good produce being ploughed back into the ground. The current pandemic has thrown a spotlight on the difficulties faced by the restaurant and hospitality sector, as they cope with sudden switches between lockdowns and re-openings. Supply chains, particularly for fresh food, cannot keep up with such sudden and extreme changes in demand. This then leaves restaurateurs out-of-pocket and good quality food is wasted. Supply chains are often complex, relying on multiple parties, long distances and, increasingly, a just-in-time approach. Disruptions therefore have a ripple effect along the chain and can take a significant time to remedy. Produce destined for supermarkets requires a certain amount of remaining shelf-life to be accepted. If an ingredient is too close to its use-by date, or fresh produce too ripe, then it will not meet the retailer's criteria and will be rejected. A food waste start-up generation is growing in London and across the UK, and technologies are emerging ranging from computer vision to spectral imagery, machine learning, biochemistry and urban farming 2.0. As the famous adage says, ‘if you can't measure it, you can't manage it’. This is often what happens with food waste throughout the supply-chain. Food waste happens incrementally, most people will say that they do not waste food at all, even when evidence shows otherwise – there is cognitive dissonance at play. This lack of monitoring leads to businesses over-producing or over-stocking food, which inevitably increases waste. The call for fresh produce to meet idealised shapes and sizes is problematic and creates unrealistic expectations from customers that for produce to be ‘good’ it should look a certain way. A gnarly carrot or speckled banana can often be rejected as customers are more likely to pick up perfect looking produce. When an ingredient is not the standard size, it also becomes tricky to process and often gets rejected before even leaving the farm. The technology solutions A food waste start-up generation is growing in London and across the UK, and technologies are emerging ranging from computer vision to spectral imagery, machine learning, biochemistry and urban farming 2.0 (indoor farming under precisely controlled conditions). We have compiled a selection of these innovations in the paragraphs below, all UK-based unless stated otherwise, and all playing a key role in redefining and revolutionising our food system. Food sensing technologies to increase traceability Advanced technologies allow the collection of an unprecedented amount of data that can be analysed through new computing capabilities. This paves the way for opportunities for innovation to make supply chains more traceable and transparent. It can provide essential information for stakeholders throughout the supply chain and create opportunities for efficiency gains – saving money, reducing waste and lowering environmental impact. The World Economic Forum estimates that, combined, blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), food sensing technologies and the Internet of Things could save up to 85m tonnes of food waste by 20306. Computer vision and artificial intelligence Computer vision coupled with machine learning allows us to effortlessly track food waste and analyse operations throughout the food supply chain. Decision-makers can then take corrective measures to reduce food waste. The food industry is struggling to accurately predict shelf life and as a result, companies and households are forced to throw away food that could have been consumed. Winnow’s digital scales use machine learning and computer vision to seamlessly monitor food waste and give chefs and restaurant managers the insight they need to take action to cut food waste. Kitchens using Winnow are able to cut food waste by a reported 40-70% and reduce costs by 3-8%. Similarly, Satis full stack AI operating system can analyse kitchen operations in real time and improve profitability by increasing throughput, reducing inaccurate orders and waste. Big data platforms and artificial intelligence can also be used to identify and anticipate changes in demand including shortages, and to avoid food surpluses. To help retailers reduce waste and optimise revenues, Wasteless has developed a pricing algorithm optimising markdowns based on expiry dates. It uses machine learning to understand how consumers respond to dynamic pricing so it can then find the optimal discounting policy. Solutions such as ConsumAI and Tenzo optimise demand forecasting by using a range of data points, including historical sales data, weather forecasts, local events, public transport updates and consumer footfall and help food businesses to predict demand and adjust their food production accordingly. To tackle household food waste, Kitche has developed an app using a scanning system to keep track of food purchased, helping users to reduce food waste and save money through reminders, advice and recipes. Bio-reactive sensors and hyperspectral imaging to accurately predict shelf-life The food industry is struggling to accurately predict shelf life and as a result, companies and households are forced to throw away food that could have been consumed. Impact Vision (US-based) and One Third (Netherlands-based) are using hyperspectral technologies to provide real-time insights into the quality and characteristics of food at different stages of the supply chain. Combined with classification software and algorithms, they can determine the freshness and quality of food items and predict shelf-life. Mimica have worked to solve this issue by creating a label that shows exactly when food spoils. Using chemistry and smart design, the labels and caps are temperature sensitive and show real time freshness. Internet of Things sensors to optimise food storage and transport Sensors and tracking devices can be used to monitor the trajectory of food items in real time and analyse the conditions (e.g. temperature, humidity, gas) in which the food is stored and transported. The insight generated can be used by the companies to optimise their operations, limit inefficiencies and losses and reduce food waste. Verigo (Belgium-based) has an integrated solution, with a combination of food sensors and a cloud-based analytics platform, to achieve just that. Blockchain for more transparent supply chains Combined with the sensing technologies mentioned above, a blockchain-powered digital network can enable full transparency and trust in the supply chain and identify ways to reduce food waste and maximise efficiencies. Provenance is using blockchain technology for food applications, creating a transparent record of food sources and proving authenticity and origin. Extending shelf life of foods Food spoilage is the natural deterioration of organic matter. In the presence of water, oxygen and specific temperature conditions, food spoilage can be caused by microorganisms growing on foods and enzymes, naturally present in foods, producing changes in texture, colour and flavour. This decay is accelerated by a natural plant hormone released in the form of a gas, ethylene, that triggers cells to degrade and fruit to turn softer and sweeter. Fresh Pod and Hazel Technologies use minerals and active ingredients in sachets to neutralise ethylene, airborne fungal spores and bacterial rots, thus extending the life of fruit and vegetables by up to four times. Apeel (US-based) has developed a natural coating using a plant's own evolved defence mechanisms to slow down spoilage. The company applies cutin, naturally waxy substances, on the outer layer of the fruits forming a barrier, which keeps water in and oxygen out. Nature Wrap is commercialising a natural preservation solution for the potato processing industry that replaces the sulphur-based chemicals (known allergens) normally used and extends shelf life by 21 days. Urban farming 2.0 Urban and peri-urban farming is gaining traction everywhere in the world. Shorter supply chains can reduce transport emissions and minimise waste; new farming technologies can help to maximise the use of space and reduce inputs. The Airponix system sprays a nutrient-rich fog on to the roots of plant crops, which leads to 95% less energy and water use than conventional agriculture and up to 20 times better yields. Growing Underground and City Farm System have developed efficient and automated systems to grow microgreens and salad leaves in unused spaces, such as rooftops and abandoned tunnels. Connecting supply and demand for food surplus Social networks, peer-to-peer networks and online e-commerce provide platforms to allow the sharing and donation of surplus food. Smartphone apps such as Too Good To Go and Olio connect demand and supply for food and prevent it going to waste. The company COGZ has created a marketplace for food and drink manufacturers and processers to buy wonky or surplus produce directly from UK farmers and growers. Similarly, Oddbox provides a veg box subscription service that rescues odd and surplus produce directly from farms. Food waste and surplus as a resource Once everything possible has been done to reduce food waste in the first instance, there will always ultimately be a small amount that will not be used. Several solutions exist to prevent this food rotting in landfill or being incinerated (Figure 2). Figure 2Open in figure viewerPowerPoint Food waste hierarchy obtained from WRAP (2018) Food redistribution and food products from surplus food ingredients City Harvest, FareShare, Food Connect, Felix Project and Plan Zheroes, amongst others, are collecting surplus from retailers and food businesses and redistributing it. Toast Ale is using surplus bread to brew beer and Rubies in the Rubble makes condiments and sauces using food surplus, such as chickpea water and wonky pears. Whether it is used to feed insects, such as the process used by Entocycle, or to grow mycelium-based food ingredients like Kernel Mycofood, food waste is an efficient and sustainable way to develop proteins. Elysia, a catering company, is using food surplus to create their menus. Biochemistry for advanced materials When it comes to using food waste to create new materials, the world is your oyster and the possibilities are close to infinite. Piñatex has developed a textile material made from waste pineapple leaf fibre, FRUU and Upcircle use fruit by-products, such as lemon peels and coffee waste, to create sustainable, affordable cosmetics, Biohm has developed, amongst other waste-based materials, a food waste-fed mycelium insulation for buildings and Chip[s]Board is turning potato peels into bioplastic. Cutting edge innovation is not the only way to tackle food waste and will not be sufficient alone to transform the food system for the better. A drastic change in the policy and regulatory framework as well as a different relationship between citizens and their food will be needed. To assess which chemicals are present in their customers’ food bins, IntelliDigest has developed a smart digester that can analyse the chemical composition of food waste and assess its best use for other manufacturing processes. Creating fertilisers and sources of energy Companies such as WASE and LEAP Micro AD have created decentralised anaerobic digestion solutions that can be distributed closer to the food waste source. Olleco and Quatra UK collect cooking oil and turn it into biodiesel while Bio-bean turns coffee-waste into different sources of energy (e.g. pellets, logs and biofuel). Scale up These solutions all sound very promising, but for them to significantly contribute to the food waste reduction target of the Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 – to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030 – and to wider climate change mitigation efforts, they need to scale fast and be used throughout the whole food industry. At least two conditions are required for this to happen at scale: a massive influx of capital needs to be invested in the development of these promising technologies, both from private and public sources. There are some positive signs as significant investments have recently been made in Entocycle (£10m grant), Winnow ($20m investment) and Too Good to Go ($31.1m investment) but more investments in this space are needed. Food companies and public agencies need to take risks and adopt or promote these innovative food waste solutions. ReLondon is actively supporting the growth of London-based circular economy food start-ups (Figure 3) through its Business Transformation programme both by helping them to access investment with our Meet the Investor support stream and new customers with our Meet the Buyer stream. The start-ups were featured in a circular economy guide for the food service business sector: Food that doesn't cost the earth7. Figure 3Open in figure viewerPowerPoint London-based food waste start-ups supported by the Business Transformation programme ©LWRAB, Advance London 2020 Cutting edge innovation is not the only way to tackle food waste and will not be sufficient alone to transform the food system for the better. A drastic change in the policy and regulatory framework as well as a different relationship between citizens and their food will be needed. ReLondon is also active in this space, notably through the Food Flagship Initiative, a three year partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Greater London Authority that aims to reduce consumption-based emissions from food, bringing together a consortium of public and private stakeholders to design, pilot and roll out pioneering circular food system solutions that really make a difference. Jean Billant, Senior Business Advisor ReLondon - Business Transformation programme, 69 Wilson Street, London, EC2A 2BB Email jean.billant@relondon.gov.uk Web relondon.gov.uk References 1https://science.sciencemag.org/content/sci/360/6392/987.full.pdf?ijkey=ffyeW1F0oSl6k&keytype=ref&siteid=sciGoogle Scholar 2http://www.fao.org/3/a-bb144e.pdfGoogle Scholar 3https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/za/Documents/consumer-business/ZA_FL1_ReducingFoodLossAlongAfricanAgriculturalValueChains.pdfGoogle Scholar 4https://drawdown.org/solutions/table-of-solutionsGoogle Scholar 5https://www.bcg.com/publications/2018/tackling-1.6-billion-ton-food-loss-and-waste-crisisGoogle Scholar 6http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Innovation_with_a_Purpose_VF-reduced.pdfGoogle Scholar 7https://advancelondon.org/news-events/food-that-doesnt-cost-the-earth/Google Scholar Volume35, Issue1March 2021Pages 40-45 FiguresReferencesRelatedInformation

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