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04.24.19

Defining the Food Waste Problem

Author: Apeel Team

If you’re familiar with Apeel, you’re likely familiar with our mission to fight food waste. It’s at the heart of everything we do. But what we actually mean by food waste might still be a mystery to some. And, of course, if we want to move the needle and help solve an issue of this magnitude and complexity, it’s important for us all to really understand the problem first.

So, let’s dive a bit deeper into what we mean by food waste and how it affects our planet. Below, you’ll find a summary of the research we have on food waste, as well as an overview of the issue, what we’ve learned, and how we’re approaching this formidable challenge.

Food Gone Bad

It’s a sad fact that 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” — that’s refrigeration across all stages of the food supply chain — a majority of these food losses occur before produce even leaves the farm. Or, if they do, they’re lost during post-harvest handling and storage. 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. This is when produce goes bad sitting on store shelves or, after purchase, when they wither away in the fridge while waiting for us to eat them. 

Regardless of where the losses occur, the quantity of food waste is hard to ignore. In the U.S. alone, food waste is the largest source of municipal solid waste in landfills, contributing more than 50 million tons each year (ReFED 2016). Methane emissions from food waste in these landfills have a huge impact on the environment. But what adds insult to injury of this impact is the sheer waste of resources, energy, and money that’s used to grow, process and distribute this food that’s 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 food that is eventually sent to landfills (Conrad et al., 2018). If that sounds huge, that’s because it is—it’s larger than the land area of Pennsylvania! And if we go bigger and account for food waste on a global scale, 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 lower greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, estimating that it would prevent 87-95 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions. And that would be a hugely effective effort in mitigating climate change. 

Global Goals for Fighting Food Waste

As the world becomes more aware 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. These goals specifically address food waste: “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.” 

But even putting public policy goals aside, there are also strong economic incentives for addressing food waste: The global costs of food wastage amounts 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). 

Food Gone Good

One thing is certain: there is no silver bullet solution to the food waste challenge. The problem spans across the global food system. It includes and affects all of us. At Apeel, 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 before the food ever travels anywhere. Apeel works to reduce food waste using our plant-based protection that extends the shelf-life of fresh fruits and vegetables. We’ve already helped our retail partners, Harps and Edeka, to each reduce their avocado waste by 50%! 

So, in a nutshell, this is the mega problem of food waste. There’s a huge challenge ahead of us, but we’re excited to be offering solutions. If you’re interested in becoming part of that solution, reducing food waste in your own lives, we want to hear from you! 

Have questions? Let us know by clicking the button below. We hope to be able to work together to create a more sustainable food system!

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