Feeding the 9 billion: How technology can reduce food waste

John Mandyck, chief sustainability officer of United Technologies Building & Industrial Systems, explains how green technology can be used to reduce food waste and tackle climate change.

By 2050, we are projected to add another two billion people to our planet. This represents a significant opportunity – and responsibility – to feed a growing planet by addressing a problem with human and environmental impacts: food waste.

Today we use 38% of our ice-free land for farming and 70% of all fresh water to grow food. Farming is also responsible for 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Now consider that we currently waste one-third or more of all food produced – waste that represents 3.3 billion metric tons of CO2. That’s the energy needed to produce the food: the gasoline for tractors, electricity for irrigation pumps, and the power to process harvests.

If we measured food waste as a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind the China and the U.S. This is tragic – particularly when you consider that we already produce enough food to feed the extra two billion people forecast to inhabit the earth by 2050, yet today one in nine people are undernourished.

Cold tech

Food waste occurs both pre- and post-consumer. It rots in the fields post-harvest and as it’s transported to markets and consumers. In developed economies, consumers buy too much food and throw it away or reject produce at retailers with the slightest imperfection.

Greater than 50% of the food that is wasted could benefit from refrigeration to extend life. Investment in the cold chain – the process used to maintain optimal temperatures for the transport and storage of food and medicine – would deliver a measurable reduction in food waste, particularly when you consider that only 10% of perishable foods are refrigerated “from farm to fork” worldwide.

The good news is energy efficient, environmental technology exists today to ensure a strong, sustainable cold chain. From solar technology to power battery packs for transport refrigeration technologies to the use of lower global warming natural refrigerants, which cools Carrier’s CO2OLtec™ and NaturaLINE® refrigeration systems for retail and ocean containers. Carrier Corporation is a division of UTC Building & Industrial Systems.

The technology also exists to provide the right solution for the region. We can’t take today’s sophisticated refrigerated truck-trailer systems available in the U.S. and Europe and expect them to be immediately adopted in emerging economies, where the infrastructure isn’t in place. Localized solutions –smaller systems, fewer features, greater affordability – can help reduce waste and feed more.

Transport & storage

Equally important is greater global dialogue. The newly forming Global Food Cold Chain Council will bring together technology providers, suppliers, retailers and more to green the cold chain, lower its carbon footprint and reduce food loss. Similarly, efforts such as Carrier’s inaugural World Cold Chain Summit to Reduce Food Waste last year in London are important steps to further the conversation around this important issue.

In addition, governments have an opportunity to create and enforce food safety standards. This will ensure proper transport and storage of perishable foods like meat, fish, and dairy, expanding the global food supply and reducing food waste-related environmental impacts.

Consumers must also take responsibility. Let’s buy just the food we need so we throw away less. Let’s accept that produce can be delicious if it is imperfect in appearance. Let’s bring meals home that we don’t finish in restaurants. Little changes in our behaviour will yield measurable results.

The low-hanging fruit for climate protection is literally rotting. With support from existing technology, local governments and you and me, it can be solved with a simple equation: waste less, feed more, with measurable benefits to the environment.

John Mandyck is chief sustainability sfficer of United Technologies Building & Industrial Systems.

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