A story in USA Today details how state governments in the United States are working to keep food out of landfills and onto consumers’ plates.
The article outlines three broad ways that legislation has been enacted in certain regions of the States to reduce the amount of organic waste that ends up in a landfill:
Tax breaks: Tax breaks are a way to incentivize those who produce waste to donate more product that may have originally been shipped to landfill without a second thought. By providing a tax incentive to donors, the government hopes to redirect edible food to people. Additionally, tax incentives may cause business owners to more carefully keep track of and monitor the amount of food being ordered and wasted, to not over order and therefore waste in the future.
Cosmetic standards/Arbitrary Best Before dates: Much food waste is caused cosmetic blemishes to food, which have no affect on the tastiness or nutritional value of said food product. Loosening legislative cosmetic standards to food could go a long way to reduce unnecessary waste.
Bans: Organic bans are a legislative measure which prohibit disposing of organic material, such as food waste, into landfills. They are already in place in small geographies such as Massachusetts. Bans can be useful in areas that have both a high density in population and a low amount of landfill space. They are most effective when they can be monitored by local authorities and enforced closely, with perhaps the threat of fines for not complying with the ban. Otherwise, they may not be effective as organic waste producers will find other places to ship their waste.
You can read more about further legislative and corporate efforts to reduce food waste here.
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.
A new tactile, bioreactive expiry date allows consumers to feel when their food is no longer fresh. Invented by London-based designer Solveiga Pakstaite, “Bump Mark” feels smooth when a package of food is fresh and will turn rough and bumpy when it has expired. This process is due to a gelatin substance inside the package that decays at a similar rate to food. As it has similar properties to perishable food like meat, the gelatin will be affected if food is not stored properly, or exposed to warm temperatures during transportation, making it an accurate reflection of the freshness of food inside the package.
The printed expiry dates we see on food today can be unclear to consumers and can contribute significantly to household food waste. Consumers have no way of knowing if food has been stored incorrectly, or if the food has gone bad while in the package. The bioreactive nature of Bump Mark offers a solution to the confusion.
“The label simply copies what the food in the package is doing, so the expiry information is going to be far more accurate than a printed date.” Pakstaite said in an interview with The Guardian.
When she started out, Pakstaite wanted to create a tactile that could be used by the blind, so that they could know when food had expired. However, knowing that large companies would not likely make a sweeping change for a small part of the population, Pakstaite went on to market the Bump Mark as a tool to reduce food waste as well as empower the blind. Her work has made headlines around the world and has earned her the James Dyson Award, a charity run by the James Dyson Foundation that supports innovations in technology, engineering and design.
The Bump Mark can be altered depending on the food by altering its concentration of gelatin.The more gelatin in the package, the slower it decays. It can be applied to many products but it may be most useful for animals products like meat, dairy and seafood.
A recent study from the University of Guelph has revealed that the continual rise of produce prices are driving consumers to make changes in their diets. The study was conducted by Sylvain Charlebois, who was a UofG professor of marketing and consumer studies at the time of the study, along with marketing and consumer studies professor Lianne Foti and U of G’s food institute, Maggie McCormick.
In the past year, produce prices have risen substantially with an average increase of 14%, while fruit has risen 11%. This has driven consumers to alter their buying habits and even cut back on the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables they buy.
“In some locations, Canadian consumers have seen prices jump by more than 25 per cent,” Charlebois told University of Guelph News.
The trio of researchers ran a survey-based study last May of 1000 people across Canada. Factors such as socioeconomic status, gender, age and education were considered in addition to behavioural aspects.
Over 26% of participants reported reducing their intake of fruits and vegetables while 66% said that cost prevented them from buying one specific fruit or vegetable. Around 45% stated they had replaced fresh fruits or vegetables with juice, frozen fruits or vegetables.
“This study demonstrates some level of vulnerability by consumers when looking at vegetable and fruit affordability,” Foti explained. “It’s reflective of how vulnerable the Canadian economy is to macroeconomic conditions affecting the price of imported food products.”
The research was presented on June 6th, at the annual Food and Agriculture Business Seminar.
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”
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.
In her article, “Donating ‘edible waste’ to food banks in exchange for tax credit? Now that’s a rubbish idea”, Valarie Tarasuk discusses some of the implications of this tax credit on food security. She emphasizes that this credit system does nothing to challenge the systemic issues contributing to food insecurity and food bank use in the first place. She concludes that things like affordable housing and paying a living wage will do much more for food insecure households than essentially giving corporations a pat on the back.
Let’s add to this discussion through a food waste lens. Hopefully the simple discussion below helps to challenge the way you think about the issue.
The argument for the tax credit is: donating isn’t free. Companies still have to get their product to the organization and that has labour and transportation costs associated with it. Give a tax credit and you will incentivize companies to divert food directly to organizations in need. Sounds fair enough right? Well, hold up a second critics are saying.
Here is the thing: waste removal isn’t free either. And companies know this. Corporations already have to buy into the waste system to dispose of their surplus product. They may send it through a reclamation company, or they may offload it into the dumpster at the end of the night. Either way, there is a price to pay.
So why is it ok to pay corporations for something they are already considering in their cost of operations?
And before you say it, no, this isn’t a case where we just need to pick the lesser of two evils (although that is an understandable response to a complicated issue). This tax credit is not an innovative waste management idea. Moving forward with a tax credit like this incentivizes the status quo, and we certainly don’t need more of that.
If you think about it more, why do we not instead expect that companies pay organizations to take their surplus off their hands in the same way they do waste management and reclamation companies? Instead of a tax credit, invest in supporting real innovative linkages between organizations and companies.
Thanks to The Bad Apples for their thoughts and insights leading in to this post.
Former president of Trader Joe’s, Dough Rauch, has opened a groundbreaking new type of grocery store: a non-profit model that tackles food insecurity, reduces food waste, and promotes good nutrition. The Daily Table store opened June 4, after managing to pass the hurdles of non-profit approval and convincing authorities that wasted food can be safe and nutritious food. The shop is located in the low income community of Dorchester, Massachusetts, and provides access to healthy food at very low prices.
This new initiative is a major departure from more traditional food charities. It is strongly committed to providing nutritious meals that can compete with fast food in its price and convenience. At the same time the retailer is committed to preventing food waste by collecting donated food and selling it fresh or transforming it into ready-to-eat meals.The shop is challenging cheap, unhealthy calories in a way that is financially and environmentally sustainable while ensuring the health and dignity of its patrons. There are many non-profits that serve rescued food, but the distinction here is that Daily Table allows customers a choice – they are not simply recipients. Being in a retail space enables Daily table to be grounded in the community, provide employment and training, as well as make money to cover costs. I’m excited to see how this project will fare as it employs it’s innovative approach to food waste, nutrition, and food insecurity.
Check out a National Geographic interview on Daily Table with founder Doug Rauch here, or more coverage from NPR.
The biggest players in the world’s food and drink industry have made a promise to halve the food they waste by 2025. This pledge was made at a meeting in New York of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), a network of around 400 retailers and manufacturers from 70 countries, with combined sales of $2.8 trillion. In order to meet this promise, the CGF will measure a baseline for 2016 and then establish monitoring and reporting systems for its members to quantify and reduce waste.
While it’s great that food waste is on the radar of such large companies, I can’t help but be a bit skeptical, especially when the CEO of Nestle says the move is particularly aimed to preserve natural resources like water. Nestle Waters is the world’s leading bottled water company worldwide, and has on multiple occasions come under fire for misuse of water (for instance, it’s currently continuing to use California groundwater, even in the midst of drought). These actions don’t exactly show a company commitment to the vision of protecting the earth’s water supply (not to mention reducing packaging waste). So while it may be a positive development to see food waste on the agenda, it could also be a way for companies to alleviate some of the public pressure and potential future regulation by looking like they’re already doing something about the problem. Time will tell, and hopefully this move is genuine, but in any event it might not hurt to turn up the pressure on private companies to cut back on food waste.