Food companies are coming up with creative solutions for curbing rampant waste.
Our latest trend report takes a deep dive into the myriad ways businesses are transitioning to a circular economy, an alternative model that seeks to create a system that’s regenerative by intention. In the food industry, reducing waste is one of the key ways to create a more circular system. Currently an estimated 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted annually around the world, an issue that has steadily gained attention over the past few years (Curbing Food Waste was among our 100 Things to Watch in 2012).
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Governments are placing greater pressure on businesses to address food waste. The European Commission has put forward a proposal to reduce food waste as much as 30 percent by 2025 as part of an effort to transition to a more circular economy. And more U.S. states are passing laws that require hospitals, supermarkets and other establishments to separate and recycle food scraps from other waste. In Massachusetts, businesses that produce more than one ton of food waste a week will be banned from sending it to landfills as of October.
Across the EU, businesses are tackling the issue in myriad ways. A new certification in Denmark, backed by Unilever Food Solutions, among others, indicates that a food-producing establishment has implemented at least three waste-reducing initiatives and recycles its food waste. So far 100 establishments have signed up. In the U.K., Sainsbury’s (which has been campaigning to reduce food waste for some time) and Google have introduced an app, Food Rescue, that helps people create recipes using ingredients that would otherwise have gone to waste. The app also aims to bring communities together to cut waste and shows how much food has been rescued at the city and country level.
With more companies seeking alternatives to sending their food waste to landfills, new business opportunities are opening up. H.J. Heinz Co. may profit from the discarded peels, stems and seeds of the tomatoes it uses to make ketchup thanks to a new partnership with Ford, which is researching ways that tomato fibers could be used to create sustainable material for car components. And EcoScraps is a four-year-old American company that collects waste from restaurants, schools, supermarkets and elsewhere, creating garden products rich in organic nutrients. Last year the company struck its first nationwide distribution deal, with Target.
While the transition to a more circular food system will be slow—requiring the development of new recycling and reverse-logistics operations, and a different mindset among consumers as well—watch for more examples of food companies coming up with creative solutions for curbing rampant waste.