Awareness is growing on the UK’s food waste issues, and none so relevant are the opportunities for new smart App based technology to help us all save money. Community based food waste reduction Apps are gaining momentum both in urban and rural areas to help us understand what we produce, use and buy in everyday life. So, can food manufacturing and production sites also benefit from the technology?
Government figures suggest the overall cost to the UK of food waste each year is £17 billion, of which £12.5 billion is the cost to households. To look at this another way, the cost of food waste to an average household is estimated to be £470 per year. Food waste also has environmental impacts (primarily in the form of greenhouse gas emissions and water use) and links with social issues such as food poverty.
Research published in 2016 shows that 10 million tonnes of food and drink is wasted in the post-farm gate food chain each year in the UK and 60% of that could be avoided, (see http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-7552 )
The highest proportion of this food waste (around 7 million tonnes–or 70%) was produced by households. Around 1.7 million tonnes of food waste was produced by the manufacturing sector; followed by the hospitality sector (around 0.9 million tonnes). The grocery, retail and wholesale sectors (which include supermarkets) wasted around 0.25 million tonnes. The problem is not getting smaller.
However, there also has not been a ‘Blue Planet’ awareness moment for Food Waste, something that mobilises the UK consumers to act more responsibly. Food retailing outlets are dealing at the very front of consumer attitudes and hard work has started across several areas such as clearer labelling for ‘use by’ and ‘sell by’ dates, ugly fruit and vegetables are still tasty, food bank collection points and social donations. However, price wars still can drive people to buy more than they can use or store!
WRAP have just released their latest report “The business case for reducing food loss and waste: Catering (http://www.wrap.org.uk/node/104782) and the advice focuses on five key areas within the operation to consider;
- Measure: Identify how much and where food is wasted
- Engage Staff: Prevention messages and reward for measurement
- Start small and get creative: Test food-waste reduction programs to iron out issues
- Reduce overproduction: Analyse menu utilization and act on demand
- Repurpose excess food: Safely repurposing leftovers back into good food
The WRAP research does show there is a financial benefit for caterers to seriously consider waste, indeed it is no surprise that economic drivers are key across all sectors of food retailing and service, but what about more technological solutions?
Aimed at the consumers, the Karma and ‘Too Good to Go App’ let stores and restaurants, through a free platform, sell their leftover food – instead of just throwing it away. Consumers can pick up really discounted food that would otherwise have just been put into the bins. The Food Cloud app is working with a major retailer on a similar concept of selling surplus stock at much lower prices. More socially orientated, the Foodbank App, also connects into JustGiving and helps supports the growing network of UK food banks by showing a ‘shopping list’ of items handed out and the stock status of nearby centres.
Affordable smart fridges connected to the IoT (Internet of Things) are not too far away and the NoWaste app allows consumers today to easily track, organize and manage the food in their home. With lists for your freezer, fridge and pantry, you can easily check what food you have left, see what food you need to use first, plan your meals, create a shopping list, avoid unnecessary purchases, reduce food waste and save money!
In California, CropMobster.com helps build communities that focuses on food waste prevention and resource sharing within local geographical locations. It allows communities to have its own exchange, managed and led by local leaders. People and businesses use the exchange to post alerts and spread the word quickly on a range of community and food system topics. Similarly, in the US, FoodCowboy.com uses smart location- based technology to route food ‘waste’ to charity-based consumers.
Tapping into ‘waste match making’ apps for the food producers, manufacturers and packagers sounds an interesting concept and could collaborative technology help with closing the loop on food waste in a growing circular economy? This can go beyond, in some cases, recyclable or reused materials, such as conversion to animal feed or compost. The food supply chain often tackles waste from a very process viewpoint, using management tools such as Sigma Six methodologies for lean manufacturing, striving to eliminate waste of physical resources, time, effort and talent, while assuring quality in production and organizational processes. It will be interesting to follow the changes in technology that are impacting on the consumer facing end, into the earlier food production side.
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