According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, nearly one-third of the food produced around the world will end up in a landfill. Let that sink in. Perfectly edible and healthy food will eventually find its way into the earth while world hunger continues to rise.
Roni Neff, program director at the Bloomberg School of Public Health's Center for a Livable Future and an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences told Johns Hopkins Magazine that one can imagine this problem as filling the Rose Bowl, which can hold over 95,000 people, being filled to the brim with food. That’s how much food is wasted in America every single day.
This is not just a problem for businesses because it also has real-world impacts on human and animal welfare. Food waste that ends up in landfills produces a high concentration of methane, which has more devastating effects on the environment than other greenhouse gasses like CO2.
On the production side, food production accounts for 70 percent of the freshwater used in America. If someone throws away 1 kilogram of beef, they’ve essentially wasted nearly 50,000 liters of water that it took to make sure that meat was sanitary enough for sale.
These problems are perilous for our environment, and there is little room for debate on that. That’s why technologists have begun using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to both study and correct many of the problems associated with food waste.
One company in particular, Winnow, has developed a product that uses AI to dissect everything that enters your kitchen’s trashcan and generates a subsequent report showing chefs and owners what they waste the most of. This information is invaluable in terms of inventory control costs and providing a menu of options that customers will come back for.
Another company, Centaur Analytics, is tackling the problem from the production/storage angle as well. Centaur developed a sensor that upgrades the post-harvest part of the supply chain by measuring a product’s freshness while it is stored. The sensors can track humidity and temperature fluctuations, which often cause problems for stored crops. These same sensors can be used during transportation as well, ensuring that products arrive to their distributors fresh and ready for sale.
Food waste is an industry-wide problem for restaurants. If we’re going to be in the business of feeding people, we have an obligation to make sure we do so in a way that is sustainable for both our local economies and for the environment. Without doing so, our industry faces obsoleting as technology is developed that improves how food is produced and made available for the masses.