These innovative startups are bringing new concepts to reduce food waste
Food and drink related waste in the U.S. has been a pressing issue for some time now. In 2012, it was reported that $165 billion in food was being wasted in the U.S. annually: that’s 40 percent of all food being either left to rot or tossed out. In 2015, the cost of food waste was up to $218 billion, with 27 metric tons of that being attributed to U.S. homes alone.
The impact this waste has on the environment is reaching dire measures, as the U.S. could save an estimated 281 billion gallons of water if better food conservation practices were in place.
In 2013, the USDA and EPA launched the U.S. Food Waste Challenge (FWC) in an attempt to curtail food waste through the encouragement of better food waste management. The goal was to reduce food waste by 50 percent by the year 2030.
In 2016, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service released new guidance where they recommended that retailers and manufacturers change their labels to indicate quality of the product rather than when it should be discarded by.
There have also been initiatives launched, such as the Culinary Arts & Food Science Program at Drexel University, which partnered with the FWC to implement better use for the food waste generated by restaurants and grocery stores.
Now, innovative startups are rising up to tackle this significant and growing problem head-on.
The increasing amount of food and drink-related waste is not solely attributed to the food itself, but the packaging it comes in as well. This is where VTT Technical Research Center is channeling its efforts. Through the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) tag technologies, the startup has developed wireless sensors that can detect ethanol in food wrappers. This live data is then transmitted to retailers and customers via RFID.
Additionally, VTT has conducted extensive research in paper-based electronics, presumably because Finland—where the startup is based—is one of Europe’s major pulp and paper producers.
“Paper has distinct functional advantages in electronics with the potential for its fibres to have semiconductive and dielectric properties,” explained Jukka Hast, Research Manager at VTT.
Food spoilage is such a concern for consumers that it’s one of the greatest contributors to food waste. Many people assume that time is the biggest reason food spoils, but it is actually the atmosphere that impacts food the most. This is why BluWrap has developed a way to modify the atmosphere a food product must exist in while being shipped.
The company’s patented technology extends the shelf-life of fresh proteins by over 40 days and uses fuel cells to actively reduce and monitor oxygen levels while the product is being shipped. This allows the supply chain to effectively manage food products.
“Over the past four years BluWrap has successfully demonstrated that its market leading technology can significantly extend the shelf-life of fresh proteins including salmon, pork, and poultry in a natural, sustainable way without compromising quality,” said Graham Ramsbottom, CEO of Wheatsheaf Group.
With groceries being a major contributor to food waste, a startup like INS Ecosystem focuses on addressing the issue by using software designed to more efficiently sell consumable goods directly to consumers.
The platform developed by INS enables direct interaction between supplier and consumer while personalizing the experience for each consumer. It also incorporates the use of the blockchain to manage transactions, effectively implementing a token system.
“The idea of using blockchain technology to improve sustainability in the food industry is gaining momentum, though this retail application offers a new twist,” said Peter Fedchenkov, Co-Founder of INS Ecosystem.
The INS ecosystem consists of four central components: the marketplace, an online portal through which products are sold; consumers; sellers, or farmers and growers looking to sell produce; and fulfillment operators, or people who operate behind the scenes and facilitate deliveries.
The overall setup of this system allows for a streamlined process that not only saves time and money, but curtails the food waste often caused by grocery stores trying to keep their shelves fully stocked.
This startup is tackling food waste in a more reactive rather than preventative way. Renewal Mill takes the $6 billion of annual fibrous food waste in the U.S. and gives it value.
“Renewal Mill is targeting fibrous byproducts that can be transformed through drying and milling to produce an array of versatile products. These milled products are nutritious, high in fiber, and flavorful without using synthetic processing techniques or unnatural fortification,” stated the company’s website.
Through the use of the principles of the circular economy, this startup uses an innovative platform to connect the companies producing the fibrous byproducts with natural food retailers and consumers.
Currently, the startup is working on its first byproduct: okara, which derives from the mixture of soymilk and tofu production and has a similar consistency to cheese curds. It is a flavorless substance that typically is fed exclusively to livestock or is dumped into a landfill here in the U.S.
Okara, or “soy pulp,”however, is a low-fat, nutritious source of fiber and protein and Renewal Mill is now incorporating this substance into a flour blend. The startup hopes to lower food waste by encouraging the use of an otherwise discarded ingredient that has potential for use.
Indiana Recycling Coalition
The Indiana Recycling Coalition (IRC) launched the Commercial Food Composting Program startup after it was awarded a $50,000 grant by the Closed Loop Foundation.
The purpose of this startup is to redirect food waste away from landfills, effectively curtailing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions emitted there. A reported 52 million tons of food is sent to landfills annually.
“There’s a significant carbon reduction benefit to composting versus disposal of organic products in landfills,” said Carey Hamilton, Executive Director at IRC.
Composting is the best option for non salvageable food waste because it saves landfill space, has a significant national diversion potential, promotes healthy soil, and supports jobs.
It’s the startup company that took Shark Tank by storm, ending with a $600,000 offer and a partnership with Mark Cuban and Barbara Corcoran.
This New York-based company got its start when the founders saw a lack of solutions for the environmental damage caused by disposable eating utensils.
“If a drinking cup or a straw is only going to be used for an hour, why are we still manufacturing and engineering that product to last for centuries,” said Leigh Ann Tucker, Co-Founder of Lolistraw. “We had the realization that could actually re-engineer these products that people have used in the billions, every single day, to be designed to disappear.”
Considering the average polymer plastic has a 450 year life span, the duo behind Loliware is not far off the mark by creating seaweed based, edible eating and drinking utensils.
The Loliware straws, for example, do not take any land resources to produce and the seaweed itself absorbs CO2, effectively reducing greenhouse gases.
The concept is so innovative and relevant that Pernod Ricard USA signed a deal with Loliware just this month. Despite the recent success, for Co-founder Chelsea Briganti the work toward a plastic-free world must forge on.
“It’s important to remember it’s not about one innovation, one regulation, or one ban, we need all of these things simultaneously, and we need continuous collaboration between corporations and innovators in sustainability,” she said.