Reduce Agricultural Food Waste
Environmental Defense Fund
Food loss and waste refers to any edible material that is discarded, lost, or uneaten, typically at some point in the food supply chain, from production to consumption. This can include food that is not harvested in farms or unused in processing, distribution & storage centers; retail stores; food service operations; and households.
Companies have a huge opportunity to take action to prevent food loss and waste. Options include, setting new standards, investing in more efficient food storage, transport, and processing methods, implementing uniform date labeling, repurposing food, educating consumers, and recycling production by-products. By tackling this problem head-on, your company can pave the way for a circular economy, leading to innovative climate-smart products, services, and jobs.
The action steps proposed below are crucial for reducing emissions and may fall under Scope 1 and/or Scope 3 of the GHG Protocol Corporate Standard. Collaboration among stakeholders within the food supply chain is key to effectively implementing these measures and achieving real change.
Focus on New Standards, Higher Efficiency, and Consumer Education
While most of the greenhouse gases that come from the food system are released during production, food waste produces another significant chunk – rotting food in landfills emits methane, a gas that is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year timeframe.
Preventing food waste is a smarter climate solution than trying to address the waste once it’s already produced through compost or anaerobic digestion. Food that is composted still requires valuable resources to produce it. By reducing surplus food before it is wasted, we can decrease demand for resources like land, labor, water, energy, and nutrients. That’s why placing a strong emphasis on waste prevention is the best option for combating food waste’s impact on the environment. Your company can take the following climate-smart actions to reduce food waste:
- Broaden cosmetic standards to be more inclusive of “imperfect” fresh fruits and vegetables and expand secondary markets for this lower-grade food: To reduce on-farm waste, you can sell cosmetically imperfect produce and enter the “imperfect food” market. By emphasizing flavor and nutritional quality, rather than appearance, you can influence consumers to appreciate these items. Selling directly to customers can also be effective, removing the temptation to choose the perfect-looking produce in stores.
- Standardize date labeling: Confusing terms like “sell-by,” “best-by,” and “use-by” can lead to product recalls and safety alerts. To reduce waste, clear language like “best before” for quality and “expires on” for safety should be used. You may also consider advanced technologies like sensors that can be used for “dynamic” or “smart” date labeling, which considers environmental factors that affect food quality and safety.
- Invest in manufacturing line optimization: Target systemic and sporadic waste generation by optimizing equipment operating conditions (determining the most efficient run settings), assessing and addressing production line design flaws, and identifying novel ways to repurpose discarded food for sale.
- Use cold chain management solutions: Breaks in the cold chain are one of the major factors that impact product freshness. To maintain product freshness, you should minimize storage times and incentivize direct perishable food shipments from farmers to retailers to reduce the number of stops in transit. Wherever feasible, prioritize the use of cold storage throughout the storage and transportation process. It is worth considering the adoption of a cold chain certification standard to ensure the appropriate storage and transportation of goods at controlled temperatures across the entire supply chain.
- Prioritize local transportation and safe packaging: Encourage local food purchasing and consumption to limit food waste caused by long distance travel time. Additionally, ensure that food items are transported in appropriate low-carbon packaging to prevent bruising or damage during transit.
- Apply intelligent routing: Inefficient transportation is a main cause of food waste. To reduce spoilage and damage, you can use intelligent routing solutions that analyze data and use AI to shorten transit times and prolong freshness. These solutions mitigate risks like breaks in the cold chain, shipping delays, and other incidents that affect shelf-life.
- Streamline inventory: Improving your retail inventory management systems can reduce food waste by tracking a product’s remaining shelf life and reducing the number of unsold days. Consider methods such as First Expired First Out (FEFO) which prioritizes products with earlier expiration dates to minimize the risk of expiration before sale or use. FEFO differs from the First In, First Out (FIFO), a method that the oldest items are sold or used first.
- Forecast Food Demand: Invest in demand forecasting systems that take into account historical sales data, market trends, and other relevant information to predict future demand for food products. The system can help food businesses, such as restaurants and grocery stores, to better plan their inventory and production, reducing waste and optimizing profits.
- Educate consumers: Educating consumers at the point of purchase can have a significant impact. Discussions can include expiration date standards, meal planning, storage techniques, recipe ideas for leftovers, donation programs for food banks, and tips on how to compost food waste. You can also support advocacy campaigns to target food waste in households.
Repurpose Food Waste for Human Consumption
Upcycling unused food and/or food production by-products into new items or products can be a cost-effective way to add value to your business while reducing food loss and waste. Not only that, it also supports the honorable efforts of food rescue teams, who repurpose food items and make them available to millions of food-insecure individuals in under-resourced communities.
- Build processing equipment or facilities to store and upcycle excess food products: Upcycling food waste is the process of transforming food waste or production by-products into new products. This can be done by using food processing techniques to transform unused parts of the food resource, such as peels, shells, or stems, into new products such as juice, soups, sauces, flour, or snacks. Upcycling can be an opportunity for you to design new climate smart products, generate new revenue streams from waste, and/or secure more affordable food products and meals for low-income populations.
- Practice farm-level food recovery and expand food rescue and infrastructure: Food rescue recovers surplus food from grocery stores, restaurants, and other food businesses, and redistributes it to food-insecure groups. You can finance these efforts to increase tax benefits for donations. You may also leverage technology platforms that connect donors with recipient organizations for smaller-scale donations.
Recycle Food and Production By-Products
Food and production by-products that become unavoidably lost for human consumption, can be converted into valuable resources including compost, animal feed, bio-fertilizer, and renewable energy; all of which reduce methane gases from going into the atmosphere. By incorporating circular methods in your food supply chain, not only can you reduce waste and make a positive impact on the environment, but you can also create new revenue streams for your business.
- Embrace composting: Food scraps and by-products can be turned into nutrient-rich soil amendments for soil health improvement and sold for a profit. Consider transportation emissions when sending food waste to composting facilities, and encourage on-site composting, home composting, community composting, or grocery store composting programs. Decentralized composting operations, composting waste locally instead of in large, centralized facilities, can lower transportation costs and greenhouse gas emissions.
- Use as animal feed: Consider using food scraps for animal feed after proper processing and ensuring that they meet the animals’ nutritional requirements. Another innovative option is using food scraps as feed in insect farming, an emerging industry that produces valuable commodities like insect biomass (proteins, lipids), pharmaceuticals, biofuels, lubricants, and fertilizer from their excrement. Many insect species can also be used as human food or feed for animals.
- Make renewable energy and bio-fertilizer: You can use industrial-scale collection of food waste to produce biogas through anaerobic digestion, creating a by-product of liquid biofertilizer. This process can reduce greenhouse gas emissions if current waste management is emitting methane, and air pollution, if the digestate is properly managed, and provides a renewable energy source. Food waste can also be converted to biogas through co-digestion at wastewater treatment plants, utilizing existing infrastructure.