Making waste work

About a third of food produced each year around the world is never eaten - it is either thrown away by restaurants, supermarkets, consumers or spoilt during transportation, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. It can then end up in landfills where it releases harmful greenhouse gasses, adding to climate change.

Reducing food waste is a critical concern and the UN has set a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of reducing food waste by 50 percent over the next 13 years.

Former US President Barack Obama supports this SDG and, in May 2017, hailed innovation as the key to achieving a sustainable food future. "Part of this is also going to be wasting less food...especially when nearly 800 million men, women and children worldwide face the injustice of chronic hunger and malnutrition," Obama stated.

Julie Hudson, economist and Head of Sustainability Research at UBS Investment Bank pinpoints how waste runs right through the food "food-chain".

"It starts from the way agricultural resources are used, and runs all the way through food preparation, eating patterns and waste disposal," she says.

In Hudson's book "Food Policy and the Environmental Credit Crunch" she and co-author Paul Donovan examine the economic and environmental implications of how we treat food. "It's clear from our book" says Hudson, "that western food, in particular, is in need of a cultural shift towards more responsible consumption patterns."

One London-based technology start-up is already leading the way in the revolution against food waste.

Winnow, founded by Marc Zornes and Kevin Duffy in 2013, aims to reduce waste in restaurants. Its technology means users can cut food waste by up to 50 percent and has already saved clients $2.5 million and reduced carbon emissions by 3,400 metric tons.

Winnow's technology works by using a smart meter/touch screen connected to waste bins which measures discarded food. Kitchens can track the volume of customer leftovers and make practical changes to reduce waste.

Like all good inventions, it is simple but very effective.

Winnow has a high-profile following with endorsement from British celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. In less than three months, his restaurants reduced food waste by a third. Fearnley-Whittingstall describes working with Winnow as a "no brainer".

This sustainable technology is just part of a growing trend of start-ups waging war on waste.

Paul Bosch is a food and agri supply chain analyst at Rabobank Food and Agribusiness Research. He sees opportunities for investment in innovations in food packaging, harvesting and post-harvesting storage which would save companies billions every year.

"There are opportunities to invest in machinery that causes less damage to crops during harvesting and transport, also investing in new treatment methods that help reduce losses during the storage of potatoes and vegetables and using different packaging materials or sealing technologies."

These opportunities are part of a $2 billion market in food waste, according to ReFED, a collaboration of over 30 business, nonprofit, foundation, and government leaders committed to reducing food waste in the United States.

The organization outlines the opportunities for investors to tap into in their Key Insights report and provides a database of food waste innovators in the US for interested investors.

Partnership for the goals: Achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals

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