How can technology wrestle with food waste?

Tesco will end edible food waste by March with the use of a handy app, but what other tools are out there?

3 January 2018
food wastesupermarketssustainabilitytechnology

Tesco has laid down the gauntlet. It has pledged to donate all surplus stock that is fit for human consumption to charities, with the changes to be adopted by March.

And the company’s chief executive, Dave Lewis, is in a challenging mood. He has called on other supermarkets to end edible waste, saying that if Tesco can do it with stores across the country, then so can others.

How is the UK’s biggest grocer planning to manage it? By using an app called FoodCloud, which itemises surplus in-store food each day. A text is sent automatically to registered charities and the first to accept the offer collects it directly.

But it’s not just supermarkets that need to tackle waste, with 600,000 tonnes of food a year getting dumped by the UK manufacturing industry, according to Defra.

So how can technology keep eats out of the landfill?

What’s app-ening?

Apps have revolutionised dating, travel and games – so how about food?

Just swipe right. Pret A Manger, Sainsbury‘s and the general public are all loved up on the ‘dating’ app for food called OLIO. Users upload a picture and short description of the food they want to give away and are then contacted via private messages to arrange the pick-up.

Asda is also bringing people together with an app that allows suppliers to buy and sell excess produce.

Next up, NoFoodWasted is kinda like a lucky dip and has around 20,000 users per day in the Netherlands and over 175 supermarkets participating. It alerts shoppers when items are marked down because they are about to expire. The company estimates that Dutch retailers waste about €10,000 worth of food a month and the app has saved between 18 to 25% of that food.

Wise up on Waste is Unilever’s take on tackling the problem. The app helps commercial kitchens cut wastage by tracking how much is thrown away at each meal and how the volume of rubbish changes over time. It also tells kitchens how much they could save if they were to cut waste by 20%.

On the radar

While technology steams ahead, there is the small problem of slow uptake by the food industry, said Wrap spokesperson Kirsty Warren. But there are swarms of innovations which have Food Spark’s sensor’s beeping.

From drones and unmanned aerial vehicles collecting data on crop damage and yield to robots in factories  and products that absorb ethylene gas in refrigerators, the weapons to tackle waste are becoming mighty sophisticated.

A company called BluWrap uses fuel cells to reduce and monitor oxygen, while fresh produce like fish is shipped in refrigerated containers, extending the shelf life well beyond 40 days.

In the US, Apeel Sciences is working on Edipeel, which is made from natural plant extracts and offers an invisible, edible, and tasteless cover that is applied to fruit and vegetables at harvest. It serves as a barrier-like skin to protect produce from oxidation and microbial activity.

And what about a farm in a freight container? Enter the Leafy Green Machine, which, when combined with an app, works to produce consistent harvests all year round in any geographic location. With a closed-loop hydroponic system within the container, the contraption is outfitted with climate-control technology and efficient growing equipment.

Let’s be realistic, there is no single solution to stopping food waste. But technology offers more than a chance to find love, send Snapchats and record the day’s step count – it could actually lead to a download in food waste.

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