Tackling the $2.5 Trillion Food Waste Epidemic with Technology

Let’s pretend once a week you go to the store and buy everything in groups of seven. 7 bananas, 7 instant oatmeals, 7 servings of orange juice, 7 servings of veggies, 7 chicken breasts, etc. You go through the first six days perfectly and on the seventh day you say, “Aw screw it, I’m gonna eat out.” And then you proceed to throw away the seventh serving of everything you bought.

Absurd, right?!

Now imagine that on a global scale. Every food producer in the world, throwing away one out of seven servings. You don’t even need to imagine this scenario because it’s actually a reality.

About 14% of food supplies are lost each year.


Imagine if Ford lost 14% of its cars before they reached the dealership. Or if Apple lost 14% of its iPhones before they reached the Apple Store. They’d treat it as an absolute crisis.

And I’m not saying that General Mills and Nestle, Kroger and Albertsons, and the rest of the world’s major food players don’t care. I’m sure it’s a frequent topic of concern. But for whatever reason the problem has persisted despite the great innovation we’re capable of. The incentives for change are obvious:

The price tag for the combined costs of social, economic and environmental impact comes up to $2.5 trillion annually.

Karen Gilchrist, CNBC

Population growth will put increased pressure on our food production.

By 2050, the world population is expected to grow to more than 9.8 billion, forcing us to increase our overall food production levels by 70%.

Edible Insects

The impact on the environment is overwhelming.

According to the United Nations, food wasted in the supply chain and at the dining table is one of the biggest contributors to global climate change, generating 4.4 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent on an annual basis. Represented as a country, it would be third only to the U.S. and China.

Karen Gilchrist, CNBC

So what are the possible solutions to this monumental problem?

Technology in Food Waste

Along the entire supply chain there’s wasted food. From the farm to the manufacturer to the grocery store to the restaurant to the home. ReFED, a nonprofit that is centralizing the efforts for tackling this problem, estimates the following breakdown of food waste along the chain:

Farm & Producer Innovation

Proper storage and efficient supply chain is a major threat to farms and food producers.

  • ColdHubs, targeted more at developing countries, offers solar-powered refrigeration centers which drastically increase their produce preservation.
  • Bluwrap uses a patented, oxygen management technique to create and maintain an all-natural, controlled atmosphere environment that suspends time so that fresh fish and other proteins can be transported virtually anywhere in the world without the need for ice, environmentally harmful polystyrene, or expensive airfreight.
  • Controlant provides cold chain management software from end-to-end.

Upcycling is an interesting pursuit. Basically it’s the practice of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless, or unwanted products into new materials or products of better quality and environmental value.

  • Regrained takes the excess protein, fiber, and micronutrients left behind from beer breweries and turns them into snack bars and a commercial product called SuperGrain+.
  • The vegan mayo made by Sir Kensington’s replaces eggs with aquafaba, the liquid made from cooking chickpeas – something that it sources from a hummus manufacturer that otherwise would have been thrown out.
  • FoPo rescues fruit and vegetables that are on the verge of being wasted, freeze-dries them, and turns them into a powder that contains most of the nutrition of the original fruit, but can last as long as two years.

Bringing the farm closer to our stores and doorsteps is one way of lessening food spoilage in transit. Vertical farming in shipping containers, for instance, can bring a tomato garden literally to a garage in downtown Chicago.

  • Square Roots and Local Roots utilize a mixture of LED lighting, vertical farming, and hydroponics techniques to grow fresh produce in a gravel parking lot.
  • CropBox and Modular Farms manufacture ready-to-use shipping container farms.

Retail Innovation

Restaurants need to order the right amount of food to meet demand without excess waste. Order too much and they eat into profits. Order too little and your customers aren’t served.

  • Good For Food, a data analytics company, offers its smart tracker technology to hotels and large commercial kitchens to reduce food waste and save costs. Their system provides a lot of transparency into what is wasted so that they can manage their purchasing behaviors better.
  • The Feedback App works with restaurants to develop smart pricing models to help sell excess food during “off hours”. For instance, they might do half-off pizza slices at 11pm right before they close to sell the extra pizza instead of throwing it out.

Grocery stores and wholesale suppliers are far from efficient. Their inefficiencies exist in both storage and expiration.

  • Axiom Energy has created a more intelligent cold storage system that saves energy and keeps a better storage environment.
  • Microsoft is diving head first into developing a “Grocery Store Operating System” with Walmart, Albertsons, etc. creating more efficient refrigeration units and spoilage management systems.
  • Loblaws shows us a new take on produce. With its Naturally Imperfect line, Loblaws offers fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables that may be misshapen or have small blemishes (but still taste great) for up to 30 per cent less.

Consumer Innovation

I don’t have to convince you that we’re a very wasteful group of human beings. We routinely buy too much and let it rot away in our fridges or gather dust in the back of our pantries. And we never learn from our mistakes.

  • OLIO connects neighbors who have excess food they’re looking to clear out. The app allows people to both share and find food in their neighborhoods.
  • Karma is an app for rescuing unsold meals at 50% off. It’s a great way for restaurants to sell their excess and people to cut back on their spending.
  • And of course the tried and true method is composting, which can be done pretty easily in anyone’s backyard. Alternatively, CompostNow will come to you and take your scraps to compost them. 

The saddest part about this entire food waste issue is that 800 million people go hungry every day. It’s the third most basic necessity in life (behind air and water). Not only do we have a food waste problem, but we also have a major food distribution problem.