Stepping up to the plate? Adopting a “circular economy,” amid the environmental scandals of food waste
08 May 2019 --- Major food players from retail and hospitality, along with social media influencers and chefs, have been urged to take ground-breaking action to drive down food waste from all sources. The UK Government is calling on nearly 300 organizations and individuals to pledge to significantly cut food waste ahead of a major gathering of key players.
The symposium “Step up to the Plate,” will be hosted next week by philanthropist Ben Elliot, the Co-Founder of lifestyle group Quintessentially. Elliot was appointed as the government’s first “Food Surplus and Waste Champion” last December to help promote awareness on food waste in the UK, which totals 10.2 million tons per year.
Attendees will be expected to sign up to a number of commitments on measuring and reducing their own food waste and inspire others to follow their lead.
“We must end the moral, economic and environmental scandal of food waste,” says UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove. “The UK is showing real leadership in this area, but I urge businesses to join me in signing the pledge so we can bring about real change. Every year readily available and perfectly edible food goes uneaten. It’s time to join together and ‘Step up to the Plate’ to stop good food going to waste,” notes Gove.
The UK initiative comes at the same time as the European Commission (EC) has adopted a Delegated Act – a procedure used to establish secondary legislation – involving a common food waste measurement method to support EU Member States in quantifying food waste throughout the supply chain.
Based on a common definition of food waste, the methodology seeks to ensure the coherent monitoring of food waste and in the future, help to tackle it. Member States are expected to put in place a monitoring framework with 2020 as the first reporting year in order to provide the first new data on food waste levels to the Commission by mid-2022.
In order to properly tackle the massive fight against food waste and take the right approach, the EC needs more data than it currently has. That’s why adopting a common food waste measurement method is so important.
Each year, approximately 20 percent of food produced in the EU is wasted or lost, causing social, environmental and economic harm.
Within the food and beverage industry, much work continues to drive down the shocking amounts of waste within supply chains.
In the EU, around 88 million tons of food waste are generated annually with associated costs estimated at €143 billion (US$160 billion).
Wasting food is not only an ethical and economic issue but it also depletes the environment of limited natural resources. By reducing food losses and waste to help achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), companies can also support the fight against climate change (food waste alone generates about 8 percent of Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions), says the EC. And by saving nutritious food for redistribution to those in need, retailers and food businesses can help to eradicate hunger and malnutrition.
In the US, food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply. Last October, the US government announced a new food waste agreement aimed at improving communication across federal agencies attempting to better educate Americans on the importance of reducing food loss and waste.
With mountains of work ahead to meet the US Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions initiative, which aims to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2030, the agreement signals a strengthening of food waste strategies to present economic opportunities and possible cost savings for businesses. As with everywhere else, the staggering amount of wasted food in the US has far-reaching impacts on resource conservation and food security while costing businesses and consumers money.
All actors in the food chain have a role to play in preventing and reducing food waste, from those who produce and process foods to those who make foods available for consumption and ultimately consumers themselves, stresses the EC.
Driving down food waste within the supply chain
With food waste becoming a growing concern, industry is enlisting ways to tackle the issue. Last year, a Dutch initiative was launched which aims to cut food waste by half in 2030. More recently, the food waste initiative Winnow launched a novel artificial intelligence (AI) technology, coined Winnow Vision, that promises to revolutionize food waste management in commercial kitchens to benefit businesses and the environment.
Israeli start-up, Wasteless creates high-tech systems to tackle some of the biggest challenges in retail including fighting food waste by tracking products on the shelf and dropping the price as they get close to their expiration date.
And just last week, the two entrepreneurs behind Revive Eco Ltd, told FoodIngredientsFirst about their potentially “game-changing” concept of extracting oils from coffee waste and using it as an alternative to palm oil.
Innovations within the packaging industry are also having a major impact on the food industry in terms of helping to drive down waste. For instance, the NanoPack project has reported significant advancements in the shelf-life and quality extension of a range of foods when packaged in nano-active materials. Funded by the EU Horizon 2020 scheme, the project aims to mainstream nanotechnologies in commercial flexible packaging. NanoPack plans to have all technological developments ready by the end of this year.
Moving toward a circular economy – the impact on food waste
Focusing on the notion of a circular rather than the more traditional linear economy will be the only way to make significant strides in countering food waste, according to Toine Timmermans, Director of the United Against Food Waste Foundation and coordinator of EU project Refresh. He stresses that a complete rethink of future food systems and supply chains is necessary.
“The topic of food waste starts with a linear economy since food waste is a symptom of that model,” Timmermans tells FoodIngredientsFirst. “It’s not a problem, it’s a symptom. In order to solve it, we need to rethink our future food systems and supply chains. It is also important to build a narrative of how a future food system should look, and we can base this on circular economy principles,” he explains. “It’s a whole new way of seeing the future of our food economy and what a system like this could look like.”
Food waste prevention is a key priority in building a circular economy and a sustainable society. The notion of a circular economy is starting to take hold in the food industry as consumers increasingly expect companies and brands to be resource smart. And as part of that, consumers demand more transparency which means detailing food waste figures and designing systems that drive down waste in general.
The shift toward a circular economy is also in line with Innova Market Insights number four trend for last year “Going Full Circle.” And, this year’s number four trend “Green Appeal” also demonstrates how the industry is increasingly committing to answering customer expectations around sustainability. This is driving corporate goals, as manufacturers commit to sustainable product and packaging development with a range of initiatives which includes waste reduction through upcycled ingredients.
By Gaynor Selby
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