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Defining the Food Waste Problem

At Apeel Sciences, we’re passionate about finding innovative ways to reduce food waste. In fact, it’s at the heart of what we do. But what are we actually talking about when we talk about food waste? To move the needle and help solve an issue of this magnitude and complexity, it’s important to first understand the problem. At Apeel, we stay up to date on information and research on food waste, so we wanted to share an overview of the issue, what we’ve learned and how we approach this formidable challenge.

One-third to one-half of all food produced for consumption gets wasted, and fresh fruits and vegetables have particularly high loss rates due to their high perishability (UN FAO 2011). In areas that lack the “cold chain” - refrigeration across all stages of the food supply chain - a majority of the losses occur on the farm or during post-harvest handling and storage. But in places where the cold chain is highly integrated, such as the United States and European Union, most of the waste occurs at retail stores and with consumers.

Regardless of where the losses occur, the quantity of food waste is difficult to ignore. In the U.S., food waste is the largest source of municipal solid waste in landfills, contributing more than 50 million tons each year (ReFED 2016). You may know that methane emissions from food waste in landfills have a huge impact on the environment, but imagine the waste of resources, energy, and money used to grow, process and distribute this food that was ultimately thrown away.

In the U.S., it requires nearly 780 million pounds of pesticides and 4.2 trillion gallons of water each year on roughly 30 million acres of cropland to grow that food that is eventually sent to landfills (Conrad et al., 2018). That’s larger than the land area of Pennsylvania! If we account for food waste globally, we’re talking cropland the size of China (Food Loss + Waste Protocol 2016). Recently, Project Drawdown recognized reducing food waste as the number one solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, estimating that it would prevent 87-95 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions and thereby be significant in mitigating climate change. 

With growing awareness of the size and implications of the food waste problem, researchers, policymakers, and industry leaders are pushing for change to align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which specifically address food waste in Target 12.3: “By 2030, [we must] halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses.” Beyond public policy goals, there are also strong economic incentives for addressing food waste worldwide. The global full costs of food wastage amount to about 2.6 trillion USD per year, including $700 billion of environmental costs and $900 billion of social costs (FAO 2020). Consumers are hardly spared from these losses, which equate to roughly $1,500 each year that a family of four in the United States spends on food that gets tossed (USDA 2014).

One thing is certain: there is no silver bullet solution to the food waste challenge. The problem spans across the global food system and includes all of us. At Apeel Sciences, we’re focused on technological innovations that can address waste in the food supply chain - whether at home with you, in transport from the farm, or even at the farm level. Apeel works to reduce food waste using our plant-derived technology that extends the shelf-life of fresh fruits and vegetables. We’ve already helped our retail partner, Harps, to reduce avocado waste by 50%!

For those interested in reducing food waste in their own lives, we want to hear from you. Send us your questions by commenting below or submitting an inquiry form on our website and check back soon for a future blog on ways to join the movement to halve food loss and waste worldwide (UN SDGs) and develop a more sustainable food system!