From food waste to fly larvae: the company changing the way we think about bugs

Renowned environmentalist Dr. David Suzuki teamed up with entrepreneur Brad Marchant to create Enterra, an organization that aims to simultaneously solve both global food waste and nutrient shortage issues. Enterra is working to close the broken food system cycle by using organic waste to create animal feed – but not for pigs or chickens. The organization uses food scraps as feed for black soldier flies, whose larvae are used as fertilizer, fish feed, or farm animal feed.

The larvae produced by Enterra may help to replace traditional crop feed stocks, which require a high amount of resources and land to grow. Larvae provide a sustainable, nutrient-rich protein with a much lower ecological footprint.

“Our mission is to secure the world’s food supply,” Enterra’s Victoria Leung said in an interview with The Langley Times. 

Enterra’s products: dried black soldier fly larvae (left) and larvae meal (right) from http://www.enterrafeed.com/products/feed-ingredients/

Based in Vancouver, Enterra’s products can be purchased dried, powdered, live, or in oil form. The black soldier flies are farmed in a hatchery, fed with diverted organic food waste, and their larvae are processed on site. The company also helps to maintain Vancouver’s Zero Waste policy by accepting organics from a variety of sources including grocery stores, farms, and greenhouses.

By closing the food waste loop, recycling nutrients, and creating sustainable protein, Enterra is forging a path for a sustainable food system. However, if you live in Canada, you may have a hard time accessing Enterra’s products. As of now, the company only ships to the USA and Europe; they are still waiting, four years later, to be approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

To read more about Enterra’s mission and products, visit their website here.

 

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Reducing Food Waste in Korea

In 2013, Korea brought into effect the Marine Environment Management Act, banning the disposal of food waste water into the ocean in order to comply with the London Convention. With this new law came a serious crack-down on food waste in Korea. In a small and densely populated country, and one where the standard of living has grown so quickly, waste was becoming a serious problem. New systems were put in place, and now the significance of such changes can be seen.

Residents were accustomed to a pay-as-you-go system for waste, but in 2013  this changed from a flat collection rate to a pay-by-weight system  for food waste. This was put in place for residents, but also businesses and restaurants.

In parts of Seoul, smart disposal systems were implemented where individuals were given ID cards that are scanned before the waste is dropped into waste bins and weighed. In other areas, residents must purchase specific bags that are priced by volume.

“SK Telecom, Korea’s largest wireless carrier, has designed RFID food waste bins with equipment that will weigh food waste to the nearest gram. Photo: KIM GYONG HO / JEJUWEEKLY.COM”

In the neighborhoods where  the smart disposal system has been implemented, Seoul has seen a 30% decrease in food waste.  Filmmaker Karim Chrobog has created a short documentary on the changes in South Korea as part of the e360 video series “Wasted” (the whole thing is worth watching). To get a bigger picture of the changes, you can watch the video here.

For residents, this strict regulation has created incentives to lower waste (or learn some small scale composting skills!), but some might argue that it is excessively strict. No one can argue, however, that it hasn’t made a difference: in a relatively short amount of time, waste in neighbourhoods with a pay-by-weight system decreased their food waste by 30%. Not only is the waste being reduced by consumers, the collected waste is not headed for landfill but for animal feed, fertilizer, or conversion to electricity. These laws also target waste across multiple sectors, in contrast to, for instance, the recent law in France requiring only large supermarkets to donate excess edibles to charities. It’s possible too that, as mentioned in the film, food retailers and restaurants concerned with their bottom line will do more to reduce waste, but also might make more of an effort to connect with charities for the waste that still remains. The changes made in Korea do involve high costs and technology as well as some ‘tough love’ – laying down a stricter system – but it seems to be getting the desired results!

For more on how Korea’s Ministry of Environment is tackling food waste check out:

http://www.asiatoday.com/pressrelease/south-koreas-food-waste-solution-you-waste-you-pay

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/mar/27/food-waste-around-world

http://www.earth911.com/food/south-korea-charging-for-food-waste/

Who’s helping fight food waste

The Guardian has run numerous articles on the topic of food waste, including one highlighting a few waste warriors in the area of food loss and waste. Check out some inspiring stories about people and organizations who are making a difference in the world of food waste, including charities who rescue food and serve up meals, and tech savvy entrepreneurs who link farmers and buyers or retailers and volunteers for pick ups.  Read their stories here. 

Reducing food waste shouldn’t reinforce food poverty stigma

When people are confronted with the enormous problem of food waste in society, one common initial idea is that it should just be collected and given to ‘the poor.’ I remember speaking with a girl in France who was arguing very passionately that the wasted food from supermarkets and restaurants should go to homeless people (and she’s finally getting her wish). However, when I asked if she herself  would like to eat that food, she was less than enthused – but still felt that someone else ought to.

Of course it may be very well meaning to want to see someone benefit from the waste,  but this is problematic because it ignores strategies higher up in the waste hierarchy, namely reducing food waste (then you can use all your saved money to help someone out). It also feels pretty condescending. Who are ‘the poor’? Just because they are in some way disadvantaged, should they be expected to eat what you or someone else has deemed ‘garbage’?  Well maybe ‘one man’s trash is another’s treasure’ and ‘beggars can’t be choosers,’ but personally I hope there are approaches that can maintain the recipients’ dignity and perhaps offer a bit more choice.

This isn’t an area with easy solutions, although as mentioned one option might be to waste less and use your saved money for donations which give people more power to choose, or food banks the ability to buy what is actually needed. However, even with changed habits at home, businesses are still going to have food that for one reason or another is edible but not salable. How can we de-stigmatize this food?  I know from my experience that a lot of the food that comes out the back doors of stores and restaurants is totally edible, so why shouldn’t it go to fill the failures in our food system? Yet things start to get a bit messed up when we start mixing a waste hierarchy with a social hierarchy.  The rich eat the organic filet, the lower middle-class the chicken nuggets, and then anyone below that can eat the leftovers and garbage from the above categories, and no need to ask them – they should just be grateful.  Umm no. Yet while not that simple or explicit, sometimes it feels that this is how we think food waste should be handled. And this model is clearly not that good for the disempowered people who are given food which, however delicious, was perceived as unfit for others yet good enough for them. So how do we challenge these structures? One way is for ritzy restaurants start serving ‘garbage’ food like monk fish heads, or for food rescue organizations open restaurants or catering companies and serve waste food back to a variety of people. This flips the ideas of who should be eating donated or  ‘waste’ food on its head. Rude Food in Sweden serves up delicious meals that are 90% rescued, and it’s not a homeless shelter or inner city feeding program: it’s a catering company.  Food Cycle in the UK  serves meals of rescued food to people who are food insecure or at risk of social isolation, but they also offer a catering service which then helps employ people and fund other programs.I see this sort of use of food waste as posing a greater challenge to the current system, challenging the idea of who should  be eating rescued food, showing that it is good enough for everyone. This is an even more shocking (and hopefully behaviour-changing) idea.

Catering

So what am I trying to say with this uncharacteristically long post? I haven’t solved this, I am confronted with this issue all the time, but I hope to think a bit more critically about equality and dignity when it comes to food and other donations. How can I treat people with the respect that they deserve, to maintain their rights to dignity and choice while doing my part to create a more food secure and waste-less society? Food waste and food poverty shouldn’t co-exist, but food donations are hardly a panacea either.

Probing the “Rescue Food: End Hunger” Parable

At a recent food-waste event, the manager of a leading food-recovery charity joked to the audience, “We want to reduce food waste, but at the same time, we want it because we use it to feed hungry people”.

Hold on!

This comment suggests that food waste is the solution for food insecurity in the city.

This rhetoric is enormously problematic

Upon questioning, the speaker admitted her comment was made lightly. Knowing and respecting her, I can verify that it is uncharacteristic of her actual morals and work. Nevertheless, I employ her comment because it represents an entire discourse in the food waste and food security worlds. Consider, for a moment, these screen-clips from websites of leading North American food-recovery charities:

Food Recovery Screen Clips

Each draws a connection between hungry mouths and excess/surplus food. At first glance, you can’t be blamed for thinking that food-insecurity and food waste are two problems that together, solve each other.

-What to do with all these hungry people? Give them surplus food!

-What to do with all this surplus food? Give it to hungry people! Win, win, win. Problems solved!

But in reality, each is a discrete and gargantuan problem. We cannot be complacent believing that the current food recovery and donation model can solve both. Allow me to illustrate:

Misunderstanding #1: Aren’t food recovery groups doing a terrific job diverting food from landfills?

Sure! Food recovery groups play a critical role in saving food before it becomes “waste.” I strongly believe in them, and volunteer myself. But we cannot forget that they represent David against the Goliath that is food waste globally.

Any conversation that portrays food recovery as the solution for food waste is misleading. In reality, the scale of food waste is gargantuan. For instance, refer to City Harvest’s outstanding accomplishment above: they rescue 136,000 lbs of edible food EVERY DAY in New York City. However, consider that against the ~11,532,000 lbs of food waste the city generates daily…and it quickly becomes apparent that food recovery is not a meaningful solution for an overwhelming food waste crisis.

WastED_2 Waste vs Recovery NYC

Overall, less than 5% of food waste in America is diverted from landfills[1], and this encompasses all forms of diversion (biogas, composting, animal fodder, not just food charities).

 

Well, great! That must mean that everyone’s got more than enough to eat! Actually, no. Now let’s consider the other problem in this situation:

Misunderstanding #2: Isn’t the vast quantity of food waste a terrific way to solve hunger?

Unfortunately, even with unimaginable levels of food being thrown out, food banks and charities are unable to eliminate hunger. They are far from reaching all food-insecure individuals. Food Banks Canada, for instance, reported serving 374,698 Canadians in 2014…only a sliver of the 1.2 million Canadians who experience food insecurity.

WasteED_3 Food Bank Usage

Many reasons account for this, including access or informational barriers, unsuitable food offerings, and the sense of shame associated with charity food procurement[2]. In short, the charity food recovery model does not have the capacity to end hunger. So when considering Feeding America’s mission of “solving hunger” and “feeding America’s hungry” (see above), we must question if this current charity-based strategy will ever bring this goal to fruition.

 

Food Recovery is not SOLVING food waste or hunger. So what could work?

Let’s be clear: food banks and soup kitchens were designed to fill a short-term need. However, every year more people come to depend on them, thanks to the retreat of government from social service provision and escalating levels of poverty.

Charity cannot end hunger. Hunger is an issue of poverty; and poverty is a problem for policy.

Luckily, some organizations are recognizing the limitations of the charitable food-recovery model and turning toward the core issues.

On the hunger front, some groups are starting to work beyond food handouts. They are looking “upstream” to address issues such as housing, inadequate wages, and the lack of social services for the most vulnerable.[3]

WastED_4 FoodShare

Addressing these deeper issues will help lift people out of poverty, making them less dependent on food charity. FoodShare, for example, engages in advocacy in tandem with its food-hamper handouts. Community Food Centres Canada runs food-skills education and advocacy groups alongside its food access programs. Their efforts focus attention squarely on government, highlighting that the voluntary sector ought not, and cannot be responsible for the problems of hunger and poverty.

Meanwhile, on the food waste front, groups such as Feeding5K, the Pig Idea, and LoveFoodHateWaste are working to identify the policy levers and affect change that will meaningfully reduce the amount of food waste being created.

Over to You!

As individuals, we can help immensely by volunteering with food recovery organizations. But it is incumbent upon us to work for deeper change. This front-line work should only be part of our efforts, because the core problems of food waste and food insecurity need deeper policy change. I invite you to explore the organizations in your hometown that are working for long-term change, and contribute half of your energies into immediate short-term relief, but another half into advocacy for long-term structural change. Let’s work together, on various fronts, to eliminate these problems.

[1] http://thecorr.org/programs_food_waste.php

[2] Loopstra, Rachel, and Valerie Tarasuk. 2012. “The Relationship between Food Banks and Household Food Insecurity among Low-Income Toronto Families.” Canadian Public Policy 38 (4): 497–514.

[3] http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/cathycrowe/2014/12/socks-are-not-enough-social-justice-lies-upstream-charity#.VImkSEh7z-4.twitter

Smiling as we throw out food

While researching organic waste collection programs across Canada I found this photo:

This photo made me disconcerted. It was from a presentation given at a conference entitled, “On the Road to Zero Waste: How Two of North America’s Leaders are Succeeding.”  Nova Scotia was being held up as a shining example of how to crack down on waste. The province certainly has been a forerunner in waste by banning all compostable and recyclable materials from landfill.  One huge area where regulations have made an impact is in the commercial sector. Many municipalities have good success with residents adopting the organic waste “green cart,” but the commercial sector can be a whole other story. That’s why this photo is included in the presentation, and I get it – it’s not always easy to get businesses to participate in waste diversion programs. But what irks me about the photo is she is happily throwing away what appear to be completely safe and tasty Timbits.

We don’t like seeing food become waste.  However, that doesn’t mean we just squirm a little in our seats thinking about food in landfill and then pat ourselves (or Tim Horton’s) on the back for ‘doing the right thing’ and composting like in this photo. Composting is better than the landfill, but it isn’t a panacea: it doesn’t erase the energy, time, labour, and money that went into producing the food. Municipal composting isn’t free, and large scale composting facilities have steep financial and environmental costs. Seeing composting as the best solution ignores the waste hierarchy that most municipalities across Canada hold as the guide to waste reduction and management.

http://www.thinkeatsave.org/

Diversion is good, but it isn’t the best option and municipalities seem to pay lip service to waste prevention and reuse (or food sharing and donation) while directing finances and energy into composting. Municipalities direct residents not first to reduction or sharing or even the backyard composter or worm bin but to the municipal program.The City of Kingston’s website says “If you can eat it, it can go in the Green Bin.” Really the message should be if you can eat it, eat it, then feed your animals or worms your organic non-edibles. Food that is unspoiled is better off in the compost than the landfill, but one step better is for it not to be created and if there is potential waste the first option to be explored should be revaluing as food (although one could make a case that Timbits are hardly food to begin with).  Keeping in line with the waste hierarchy businesses and residents should firstly try to reduce the excess they produce, but when there is unspoiled food about to be thrown out they should put it to use, with food banks willing to accept it or organizations like Second Harvest that use food rescue as a means to combat hunger.

When we stop congratulating businesses for the edible food they compost and instead prevent it from winding up in the waste bin at all, multiple problems are solved at once. Businesses save money by reducing their waste, improve their reputation by helping out the needy, less energy and money is spent on waste transportation and processing, and those in need don’t go hungry. Metro Vancouver has issued a ban similar to Nova Scotia; however, it is making a point of directing businesses to organizations that accept food donations as well as protecting and informing businesses about legality of donating food. Efforts like those in Metro Vancouver offer some hope that a shift is coming. It is time that food waste realities line up with our supposed priorities, to put our money where our mouths are…or perhaps food waste where our mouths are.

Will Forcing Retailers to Donate Excess Food Work to Reduce Waste?

There has been a lot of talk about the new law in France which will compel food retailers to donate unsold food rather than throw it out.  Given our work in food waste, we’ve been asked a lot what our thoughts about it are.  I’m scheduled for a 30 minute call in on radio this afternoon so thought I should pull my thoughts together and a blog post seems a reasonable approach to doing that.

First of all – reducing the amount of food that goes to landfill is a good thing.  We should be looking at more ways to do that.   Secondly, talking about food waste is a good thing.  Higher awareness means lower waste – and not just at retail.  Many Canadian retailers already divert product to food banks – largely from distribution centres.  So what could possibly go wrong?

As always, the details will make all of the difference.  Here are a couple of thoughts about implementation.

Where is the line?  Some product that gets thrown out is clearly still edible and could be re-purposed.  I was speaking to a student who regularly “liberates” food from behind food retailers just the other day.  They found 8 wheels of brie and many potatoes and beets just the other day at a single retailer.  I don’t know why it was thrown out but it was clearly still edible and was used.  There is, however, also a significant volume of inedible spoilage.  Who decides whats good and what isn’t?  What happens to the stuff that isn’t?  Will we burden charitable organizations with increased disposal costs?  This needs to be figured out.

What is donatable?  Fridge space is often an issue at food banks.  What if they don’t want it?  Some stuff simply doesn’t move well at a food bank.  What if they don’t want it?

Who pays?  There is already some donation.  We don’t have a good sense of how much edible food is thrown out – although we know there is some.  If retailers have to pay to sort and ship it to charities (assuming they have the capacity or ship it to multiple locations) this needs to be figured out.  The classic operations management newsvendor problem suggests that as disposal costs go up, optimal order quantity goes down.  Availability may decrease.  That may be a good thing.  Diversion (to charitites, animal feed or others uses) is a secondary objective to not generating the waste in the first place (apologies for the suggestion that providing food to the less fortunate as waste).  Grocery stores may be more inclined to run out than to have to manage the diversion of excess.  That may be a very good thing but it doesn’t increase the food going to food insecure individuals.

In principle this is a good idea.  It remains to be seen whether it truly is in practice.