Tag Archives: food waste

Healthy People, Healthy Products, Healthy Planet

earth-day-foodToday is Earth Day, and our blog usually focuses around Nelson-Jameson’s social and environmental sustainability practices. This year, however, we’re taking a “big picture” approach, and exploring the overall food industry’s sustainability outlook. We’ll take a closer look at the ways in which food manufacturers, distributors, suppliers and retailers are taking steps to increase sustainability and reduce waste in the supply chain.

So, what is sustainability? Well, in this context it means that a business’s industrial practices and strategies create and maintain the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony while permitting the fulfillment of social and economic needs of present and future generations. For the food industry, sustainability is a major strategic issue for the entire food supply chain—agriculture, manufacturing, packing and distribution.  With an expected 60% increase in global food demand by the year 2050, the food industry is facing increasing pressure regarding raw materials, ingredient sourcing and food production in a competitive environment of constant supply chain optimization and control. Given the circumstances, achieving sustainable practices seems pretty daunting. So, what can be done?

One of the largest and most popular initiatives involves focusing on food waste. Food waste is food that is discarded or unusable, and it occurs at all levels of the supply chain. An estimated 40% of all food produced in the United States is never eaten. General food waste solutions focus on three overall strategies—Reduce, Recover and Recycle. Food waste can be reduced by improving product development, storage, packaging, procurement, marketing, labeling and cooking methods. It can be recovered by connecting potential food donors (food service providers, food retailers and food processors) to hunger-relief organizations. Finally, food waste can be recycled to feed animals or to create compost, bioenergy and natural fertilizers. In addition to the positive environmental and social implications, managing and reducing food waste is also advantageous to the food industry’s overall financial health. Food waste is estimated to cost the commercial food service industry in the US approximately $100 billion per year, US consumers approximately $43 billion per year and global food processors approximately $750 billion per year.

Another way in which the food industry is increasing sustainability is through strengthening the links between industry and agriculture. Agribusiness is said to build sustainable food systems by providing more nutritious, healthy and foods and assuring increased food security. Many food manufacturers are reevaluating their ingredient and raw material sourcing, and are finding that building direct relationships with local agribusiness is efficient from both a cost and energy standpoint.

Using environmentally-responsible packaging is another example of a strategy in which many sustainably-minded members of the food industry are engaging. Americans recycle at only an average rate of 34.5%, so the majority of food packaging ends up in landfills or as street litter. Therefore, there’s a general perception that the onus to reduce packaging waste and increase recycling is on the makers of packaged foods and beverages. Although packaging only makes up a small part of a product’s environmental impact, packaging heavily influences buying decisions—especially those of sustainably-minded consumers. Therefore, many manufacturers are seeking ways to reduce plastic and paper waste in their packaging, while finding ways to make it easier for consumers to recycle, reuse or compost that packaging.

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A New Way to Burn a Few Calories

tech-indIn the food industry, most of our focus is on the safe production, distribution, and sale of food items to the public. Many of us would not want to think about, more less focus on the details about where our unused products go, as we invest so much in the final product.

The Boston Globe recently highlighted that environmentally and economically, food waste is an important issue that has been heralding a good deal of attention. Several facilities are being built “as landmark regulations take effect next year to make Massachusetts the first state to ban hospitals, universities, hotels, and large restaurants — in all, about 1,700 big businesses and institutions — from discarding food waste in the trash.”

“Efforts grow in Mass. to turn food waste into energy” examines the potential environmental impact of these facilities and the process of anaerobic digestion that will “convert methane from food into power that feeds into the region’s electrical grid. The methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, is contained by the plants and not released into the atmosphere.” This compares favorably to the economic realities of current disposal habits, including the creation and maintenance of landfills in the state, where disposal costs, “between $60 and $90 a ton, compared with a national average of about $45 a ton — and the fees are expected to rise as landfills fill up.”

In addition to the numerous perceived benefits, the discussion has also brought forth some concerns, including from some of those that would be directly affected by the new regulations. Businesses like restaurants, grocery stores, food pantries, etc. question how they will store and transport waste safely so as not to compromise food safety issues.

As these regulations take shape, Massachusetts seems to be prone to be a very public cornerstone in shaping the future of this alternative energy source in the United States.

If you would like to learn more about anaerobic digestion click here for a useful resource; to take a look at the original article from The Boston Globe click here.

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Consumers’ Ideas on Tossing Food: About to Expire

Time Magazine recently featured an article that looked into the many misconceptions consumers have when it comes to their food being labeled with “sell by,” “best by,” “use by,” etc. Alexandra Sifferlin, in “Foods You Are Probably Throwing Away Too Early” reports, “confusion over expiration dates on food leads more than 90% of Americans to throw out food prematurely, so 40% of the U.S. food supply ends up in the garbage–unused–every year.”

The article covers research done by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic. According to their study, consumers are perplexed with the current state of expiration date markings. To counteract this confusion and to address the amount of wasted food in the US, “the study authors also call for legislation by Congress to develop national standards that would standardize a single set of dating requirements.” Through such an effort, along with a suggestion for more public education, it is hoped that consumers can reduce their amount of food waste without compromising food safety.

In addition to a more well-informed public, any such future legislation may bring about some significant changes in how the food industry does business, too. What will be some of the challenges? How do you see it affecting the way your operation and distribution systems work? Further, what are your thoughts on how the industry might help in finding a mutually beneficial answer to updating and implementing a new, fair food labeling program?

To check out the full article, click here.

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