Digital and green technologies, key to ending food waste and loss
“The world is facing a food-waste crisis. It is estimated that 931 million tonnes of food were wasted by households, retailers, restaurants and other food services in 2019. Around 61% of this waste occurs within households” – says the latest UNEP report Reducing Consumer Food Waste Using Green and Digital Technologies.
By applying the Food Waste Index methodology, the new report attempts to fill the data gap on the current status, the economic, social and environmental costs as well as future prospects of consumer food waste at the urban level across five cities: Bangkok (Thailand), Belgrade (Serbia), Bogotá (Colombia), Doha (Qatar), and Kampala (Uganda). It did so by surveying local communities to understand the driving factors of food waste in households and by mapping city-level policies, stakeholders, and the best practices implemented by means of technological innovation.
The detrimental effects of food waste
Food waste is not only responsible for a huge loss in natural resources, energy and labour employed in production and management; but it greatly exacerbates the triple planetary crisis – climate change, pollution, and biodiversity.
According to researchers, food loss and waste produces 8-10% of greenhouse gas emissions. This places food waste - if it was a country - as third, behind the two most polluting countries in the world. Indeed, organic waste in landfills release dangerous amounts of methane, a gas fostering the greenhouse effect 25 more times than CO2.
Therefore, organic waste can turn into a harmful source of air and water pollution. If the liquid waste produced by its decomposition – called leachate – enters a stream or groundwater, it can be toxic for the eco-system, human and wildlife health.
Lastly, large quantities of food waste and its poor management are noxious for land biodiversity surrounding landfills due to soil and water contamination. Also, it disrupts the natural equilibria regulating animal life, as decaying food may attract and poison them, affecting life-cycle reproduction patterns and predator-prey relationships.
Take action to reduce food waste
There is a number of individual actions we can adopt at home to help reduce our food waste and its harmful impacts. First, we must better managing our groceries, by carefully planning our meals and quantities, thus not letting foot rot in our fridge. At the supermarket, opt for those products which are closer to expiry date: their quality and nutritional value often remains uncompromised even after few days. And when leftovers are not reusable in any way, try composting! Your home-grown plants will thank you.
In addition, eco-conscious technology now also prevents wasteful patterns. The latest UNEP report has gathered evidence of how food can be distributed more equally at the urban level, being stored and packed more efficiently, through the aid of mobile apps or traceability system able to match food supply with demand.
Redistribution is easier in an interconnected word
In Doha, Wa’hab created pivotal partnerships amongst retailers, restaurants and event-management agencies to rescue surplus food and deliver it to charities and local communities; they also encourage households and businesses to start composting.
In Bogotá, the EatCloud platform gather real-time data from vendors to compute places and times where food is being wasted throughout the supply chain; using AI, it is possible to act before food is thrown away and, thereby, redistribute to beneficiaries. As of today, EatCloud could provide more than 34 million meals to people in need. Similarly, in Belgrade the web-based platform FoodShare connects food donors, recipients, and volunteers to streamline food surplus in favour of socially vulnerable groups.
Markets are another crucial place to implement food-saving practices
In Bangkok, local market operators created a reward system that encourages vendors to collect and return their organic waste; suddenly, food leftovers are disposed of in a biogas facility or used to create bio-fermented water. In Kampala, market vendors prefer using hermetic double-layer bags for grain storage and transport, so that it is protected from pests and shelf life is extended.
Participate in the #GreenTechCities social media activation to share your food-saving habits! You may connect with people all around the world to exchange best practices and find local initiatives ensuring food equity in our cities.
 IPCC Special Report on Climate Change, Desertification, Land Degradation, Sustainable land management, Food Security, and Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Terrestrial Ecosystems.
 FAO – Food wastage footprint: Impacts on natural resources, 2013
 CBC – Food waste has environmental impacts: scientists say. Retrieved by: https://www.cbc.ca/news/science/food-waste-has-environmental-impact-scientists-1.828102
 Grundig – How food waste is affecting our wildlife and ecosystems. Retrieved by: https://www.respectfood.com/article/how-food-waste-is-affecting-our-wildlife-and-ecosystems/