Innovation must be at heart of food waste fight, industry experts agree

EXCLUSIVE: Open-source innovation will be a central tool to help businesses meet the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12.3 objective of halving global food waste by 2030, a group of industry experts including the heads of Tesco and WRAP have told edie.

The experts were speaking ahead of the release of the latest Champions 12.3 report which found that company efforts to tackle food waste can generate financial returns of around $14 for every $1 spent on mitigation.

Champions 12.3 chairman and Tesco chief executive Dave Lewis highlighted the retailer’s commitment for the end of 2017 that no food that is fit for human consumption will go to waste in UK operations.

A key driver for this goal is Tesco’s partnership with Innovate UK which calls on innovators to develop projects aimed at reducing household food waste. Additionally, Tesco works with food redistribution organisation FareShare under the Community Food Connection, which has seen the supermarket pass on around 13 million meals for more than 2,200 charities.

Tesco works with FareShare FoodCloud to recruit charities and community groups, linking them to stores via an innovative app, and alerting them to surplus food items available for collection at the end of each day. Lewis told edie that Tesco are collating evidence to demonstrate the benefits of the scheme to the rest of the industry.

“We’re trying to prove it,” Lewis said. “When we started people didn’t think we would be able to make it work. But the donations we made through that look set to be around 5,500-6000 tonnes. But actually as it builds through our stores, every store will have that by the end of this year.

“We’ve built that in a way that we’re going to give it back to the industry as an open-source piece of innovation because we don’t see this as the start of a competitive advantage. It’s something that we’ve created to help the industry. So that’s where we’ve invested to innovate.”

Transparency demand

Tesco’s co-operative approach to food waste is advocated by global catering and facilities firm Sodexo, whose collaborative efforts with various charities recently secured the firm the title of industry leader in the Consumer Services category of DOW Jones’ Sustainability Index.

The company has recently teamed up with WWF to launch a new range of sustainable meals to improve public health and reduce the environmental impact of food production. And with support from WRAP, Sodexo has trialed LeanPath, an innovative food waste monitoring system. LeanPath is an electronic smart meter which enables kitchen staff to track, monitor, and reduce food waste using a tablet device.

The company also does a lot of work around food waste with millennials; the company’s Food Recovery Network, for instance, incentivises university students with a $150,000 grant to recover surplus food from their dining halls. According to Ted Monk, the company’s North American vice president of sustainability and corporate responsibility, the use of innovative approaches that foster youth engagement holds key to tackling food waste.

“I would look at it in this case from the consumer point of view,” Monk told edie. “By 2025, 75% of our consumers will be millennials. The demand for transparency around what happens with surplus food continues to increase at a level that we haven’t seen in the past. That helps us to drive that innovation.

“I love the example that Dave gave. We’re not quite as sophisticated as that in terms of using the technology but the important thing is to find a way to connect surplus food from our thousands of accounts to the local communities which we serve.

“That’s a very easy sell to the employees in the accounts because they are part of those communities, they want to see those communities thrive and they don’t want to see food being wasted. There are many ways, whether if its through a sophisticated technology platform, or something as simple as outreach in the community, to make sure that we can connect surplus food with those in need.”

Sharing innovation

Businesses in the UK will be called upon throughout the new Courtauld 2025 scheme, led by Government waste advisory group WRAP, to investigate innovate methods of encouraging consumer and supply chain waste reduction.

New figures revealed that the Commitment’s previous phase generated an estimated £100m in food waste savings over a three-year period, helped by creative techniques from the ‘big four’ supermarkets such as online food waste apps to redistribution campaigns

WRAP estimates that around 45% of UK food waste comes from the supply chain. In an attempt to tackle this issue, supermarket giant Asda recently launched an app that delivers an online platform for suppliers to exchange surplus food to help eliminate food waste in the supply chain.

WRAP’s group’s chief executive Marcus Gover told edie that his organisation was working with retailers to explore the opportunities of surplus redistribution through similar initiatives, which he said can help suppliers make best use of food waste elsewhere in the food chain.

“Through Courtauld 2025 we’re working with the signatories to share all these innovations,” Gover said. “We have working groups on different categories in deal with redistribution, trying to make sure that best-practice is being shared and we need to make sure that we get the most out of any surplus food there is. We need to make sure that it goes first to human distribution, then to animal feed, and then to compost and anaerobic digestion.

“We do that with the signatories but we also have an outreach programme to get to some of the smaller businesses in the supply chain so that they can also adopt that best-practice. That’s the way we will meet the 12:3 target, by doing that throughout the whole supply chain. Courtauld 2025 is our way of doing that in the UK.”

edie’s Resource Management Month

March is edie’s Resource Management Month, with a series of exclusive interviews, features and podcasts running throughout the month to drill down on the most effective ways of driving a resource revolution.

From recycling and recovery to closed-loop solutions, our Resource Management Month will explore the various ways businesses can help to deliver an economy that has moved away from ‘take, make, waste’ to a circular economy-based model based on resource efficiency, re-use and redistribution.

Read all of our resource management content here.

George Ogleby

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