Food Saved is Money Earned

May 30, 2017

If a penny saved is a penny earned, can food saved food become food earned for the billions of hungry people in the world? Innovative entrepreneurs are leading the way in combating this multi-billion-dollar problem by developing products and services that reduce or eliminate food waste.

Food Waste is a Massive Problem

The United Nations Environment Program reports that consumers in industrialized countries waste 222 million tons of food every year. That equates to nearly as much food as sub-Saharan Africa produces.

And yet, there are still 805 million hungry people in the world, according to an estimate from The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Food waste and food insecurity are pervasive in both developed and developing countries. Here are some quick stats:

  • In the U.S., the richest country in the world, one in seven Americans (14.3% or over 22 million individuals) do not have enough food to eat.
  • The U.S. is the biggest contributor to the issue of food waste. According to Feeding America, a non-profit focused on feeding the hungry in America**, 72 billion pounds of food are wasted each year**, not even including the waste generated from individual homes that ends up in the garbage (and then the landfill)

And food waste has significant effects on the environment, too:

  • 21% of fresh water is used to grow food that never gets eaten
  • Food waste in landfills is a significant source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that has over twenty times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide

A Messy, Complex Issue

The global food waste problem is not one of shortage; rather, food waste is a systemic problem with roots in complex issues such as human behavior, misaligned incentives, and poor infrastructure.

As such, it requires problem-solving and support from the private and public sectors. And from all of us as individual consumers.

It will need research and data-driven approaches that can lead to impactful interventions and long-lasting implementations. Changes along the supply chain from farmers to transporters to retailers may be necessary. And entrepreneurs, of course, have a role to play in delivering both for-profit and social enterprise solutions.

The Role of Entrepreneurs in Reducing Food Waste

Entrepreneurs globally are tackling wasted food, working inside the farmgate to prevent waste, diverting and repurposing uneaten food using technology, logistics, social media, and even insects, and helping educate (and incentivize) consumers and restaurants to be waste less.

Recently, ReFed, a non-profit in Boston, MA, launched their Food Waste Innovator Database to showcase American commercial and non-profit startups turning the problem into an opportunity.

Our list is not as comprehensive, but here a few startups globally to give you a flavor for entrepreneurial food waste solutions we’re seeing:

  • Gebni: a mobile application in the U.S. that works with restaurants and their customers to monitor quantity and set prices based on demand. So, when there’s too much food, prices drop and the takeout food market opens up to new, more price-sensitive customers. A future orders tool also allows restaurants to accurately predict orders for upcoming days, helping them to make more informed purchasing decisions.
  • Food Waste for Feed: AgriProtein, Ynsect, GoTerra and many more are turning food waste into insect feed, and then using the larvae as feedstock for fish and chicken.
  • In France, Disco Soupe organizes collaborative cooking events where people learn to cook with food surplus while dancing to a disco beat. We can expect to see more innovation from the French, as they’ve recently passed a law prohibiting supermarkets from tossing edible food.
  • In Denmark and the U.K., an app called Too Good To Go allows restaurants and bakeries sell their leftover food at the end of the day for extremely low prices.
  • Food Waste to Compost: Re-Nuble is just one example of many companies around the world working with restaurants, city councils, or community farms to source waste streams that can be turned into, and sold as, liquid fertilizers.
  • In the U.K., The Gleaning Network coordinates volunteers, farmers and food redistribution charities to salvage thousands of tons of fresh fruit and vegetables wasted on farms every year across the U.K. and Europe. They direct this fresh, nutritious food to people in need.
  • Marketplace companies like AllWin(Sweden), Food Cowboy(US) and SpoilerAlert(US) and CropMobster (US) use apps to help get surplus food to people or companies in need.

There are also several companies looking to raise money for food waste solutions on crowdfunding platforms, Kickstarter. Evidence that food waste awareness has hit mainstream, perhaps?

  • BioVessel is an ecosystem powered by food waste — Users can compost food scraps in their own apartments to fertilize and grow plants.
  • KinoSol creates solar-powered food dehydrators that do not require any electrical inputs.
  • Impact BioEnergy in Seattle has a Food Waste-to-Energy Converter that converts food waste to fertilizer and renewable fuel.
  • FoodforAll is an app that allows you to buy food restaurants did not sell by the end of the day at up to an 80% discount.

Awareness of the food waste problem is increasing and innovators and entrepreneurs are taking action. As technologies improve in other sectors, it’s possible they will inspire opportunities to curb food waste. In the future, “smart refrigerators” could message consumers to warn of pending expiration dates; 3D printers could convert waste into gourmet food items; and virtual reality could help change our perception of food waste, making it easy- and enjoyable- to finish off our leftovers.

Until then, we’ll keep rooting for the entrepreneurs stepping up right now to reduce waste in our food system.