Technological innovations work to address the issue of wasted food

As consumers become more aware of the amount of food that is being wasted not only in the home, but commercially as well, food retailers and restaurants are looking towards technology to ease the issue of waste.

Wasteless, capitalizing on “the internet of things,” is a startup that aims to be “the internet of groceries.” It does so by cataloging when a food is set to pass its best before or sell by date, and adjusts the price accordingly. The technology is automatic, saving the grocery store the time and staff resources to have to change the price manually. Food that is getting close to the end of its best by or sell by date can then be purchased at deep discounts by shoppers. By being able to sell the food instead of paying to dispose of it, it may assist grocery chains in reaching their “triple bottom line” of people, profit, and planet.

Additionally, this technology is working to help dispel some of the myths around best before dates, which many mistakenly believe refer to food safety. In reality, best before dates are indicators of freshness, and some do not even apply if the food has remained sealed/unopened.

More information about Wasteless can be found here.

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Taiwan Embraces Alternative Garbage Collection Schemes

More from 99% Invisible: “Separation Anxiety” explores how the country of Taiwan has employed alternative recycling and garbage collection schemes that put the onus for reducing waste back on the consumer at the household level. Using a mix of strategies, the country has tremendously reduced the amount of garbage it produces compared to 20 years ago. Strategies include “polluter pay”: charging householders for state-sanctioned, official trash bags (the bigger the size of the bag, the more expensive it is), offering free organic and recycling pick-up, and fining those who do not sort their recycling properly.

Garbage trucks come around to neighborhoods in Taipei and other large cities multiple times a week, and multiple times a day (mostly in the evenings). It is the responsibility of the citizens to be ready when the truck arrives (which heralds its coming with a classical song such as Fur Elise). The garbage truck is followed by a recycling truck with separate containers for plastics, glass, paper, raw and cooked food waste, and more.

The inclusion of everyday citizens in daily flows of garbage removes the invisibility of waste that seems to characterize most “modern” cities. Would reclaiming waste from the margins of society and making it more visible change our current, wasteful practices?

“Best Before” Debate Continues

A 2013 study by Emily Broad Leib has received recent media coverage in the US on the podcast 99% Invisible.  Best before dates are confusing, contribute a great deal to food waste, and tend to be regulated sector-by-sector, rather than in a cohesive, comprehensive, federal way.

The episode gives a brief history of best before dates in the United States, and urges listeners to use more “common sense” when deciding when to throw out food such as milk or other refrigerated  products. It attempts to demystify a common fear of consumers: hearing a news story of a listeria outbreak, or a friend who contracted salmonella, and then looking to the date as the definitive “throw out” date.

The episode builds off growing interest in Best Before Dates in the US following a survey by the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, the National Consumer League and Johns Hopkins University Center for Livable Future. The survey reported that over 1/3 of adults regularly throw out food due to mistaken interpretations of what the Best Before Date means. Additionally, many respondents believed that Best Before Dates were federally mandated, even though a majority of date labeling is at the producer/distributor’s discretion.

Parts of Europe, especially in the UK, have made strides in banning all dates except for expiry dates in hopes that it will lead to less food waste at both the retailer and consumer levels. With the US EPA recently pledging to reduce food waste in half by 2030, a reform on inconsistent date labeling may be a good place to start.

For a list of media coverage relating to Leib’s study in particular, and food waste in general, check out Harvard Law School’s Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation here.

You can listen to the podcast here:

 

 

Starbucks Pledges to Donate 100% of Surplus Food

Starbucks, the largest coffee company in the United States, has recently pledged to donate 100% of their unused food to shelters, food banks, and charities over the next five years.

Although the company has donated food in the past, this initiative is a commitment to going beyond shelf-stable food and pastries to include perishable, “ready-to-eat” products that will be donated with the help of refrigerated trucks, with the hope that the food will be delivered to those in need within 24 hours of donating.

Previous concerns were about the viability of donating these perishable foods, especially in areas with warmer climates. Logistics for this scale of food donation can be daunting without the right equipment and rigorous commitment to quality along all levels of the supply chain.

Starbucks is partnering with Feeding America and Food Share for this initiative. More information can be found here: http://mashable.com/2016/03/22/starbucks-food-donations-foodshare/

Denmark opens “Surplus Food” Grocery Store

As we have been reporting in previous weeks, many countries in the European Union have been several steps to reduce food waste, primarily at the legislative level . France has opted for the “stick” approach, fining retailers for dumping instead of donating, while Italy has plans of a more “carrot” nature, with more incentives to retailers to donate rather than the fines.

Now Denmark is continuing to push boundaries by opening a new surplus food grocery store aimed at the general public. It’s called WeFood and it opened last month in Copenhagen. Food at the store is nearing or past its expiry date. The food is donated and the shop is run by volunteers. Profits from the food sold go to anti-hunger organizations all over the world.

You can read more about WeFood and what Denmark is planning for the future here.

From NPR: “A crowd waits on the sidewalk for the WeFood grocery store in Copenhagen to open. It’s not the first grocer in Europe to sell surplus food. But unlike so-called “social supermarkets” — stores that serve almost exclusively low-income people — WeFood’s offerings are very intentionally aimed at the general public. DanChurchAid”

“Giving Waste a New Life”: a Behind the Scenes Tour at Guelph’s Waste Diversion Facility

Happy Sustainability Week from Guelph Food Waste! This past Monday, University of Guelph students went on a tour to the Waste Diversion Plant located on Watson Rd. in Guelph. After donning super exciting reflective vests, hardhats, eye protectors, and toe covers, a group of about 15 students spanning a variety of disciplines were taken to the organic composting facility as well as the recycling plant.

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Interactive Exhibit at the Guelph Waste Innovation Centre

Guelph is a Tier 1 waste management facility, which means that all waste that comes into this facility is processed on site. The waste received at this specific facility is from the City of Guelph and the Region of Waterloo. This facility formerly recycled plastics and other matter from Michigan, but has recently ceased those operations.

The city of Guelph operates a rotational waste collection system: Week A and B. Residents are asked to put out your organic waste weekly, along with either recyclables or trash, rotating every other week.

Organic matter that is taken to the facility becomes compost over several weeks. It is put in a series of tunnels with moisture and temperature carefully monitored. After about 6 weeks, the compost is then of a quality that is suitable for agriculture or landscaping purposes.

Recycling in Guelph is sorted by both machine and by hand. Plastics, paper, and metal are separated. Metal is first separated by magnet. Like items are consolidated and then put into large pallets to be re-sold. Recently, the facility has started to accept Styrofoam as a recyclable item, but only if residents drop it off themselves. In the future, residents may be able to put their Styrofoam waste in their blue bins, but not now.

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Unsorted recyclables just arrived at the facility

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Note the large belts that begin the sorting process. This is the first step before recyclables are sorted optically and by hand

If you are interested in touring the waste facility yourself, you can contact the Guelph Resource Innovation Center by visiting their website here.

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Tour participants Kelly and Marion

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Tour participant and intrepid reporter, Amy

Update: France Bans Supermarket Waste

In July, we wrote about French Councillor Arash Derambarsh’s efforts to lead the way in food waste reduction for the EU. Last week his efforts paid off, at least for the country of France. French grocery stores that are 400 square meters or larger are now required by law to donate all of their excess food to either food banks or charities, or run the risk of being considerably fined. Furthermore, supermarkets are now banned from tampering with food they put in bins: previously either bleached, locked up, or otherwise rendered inedible. Finally, the law has relaxed restrictions on donations that can come directly from factories, eliminating much of the red tape in the process.

Councillor Derambarsh hopes French President Hollande is willing to take the rest of the EU to task on the issue of food waste, using France as an example.

You can read more about this story here: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/04/french-law-forbids-food-waste-by-supermarkets