2016 Food Waste Forecast

Those working on solving the global issue of wasted food had a big year in 2015. Will the momentum continue in 2016?

Andrew Shakman
BioCycle January 2016, Vol. 57, No. 1 p.48
Editor’s Note: This article is based on a webinar given by Andrew Shakman, Cofounder and CEO of Lean Path, Inc.

 

THIS past year was the biggest yet for people working on solving the global issue of wasted food. But what’s ahead for 2016? Will the momentum continue? First, let’s take a look back at this historic year that has come to a close.

In January, we highlighted the 2015 National Restaurant Association Culinary Forecast. For the first time ever, food waste made it into the top 10 “What’s Hot” topics for chefs, coming in at number nine. This was the first indication that wasted food was starting to reach beyond a community of environmentalists and analysts into the community of culinarians. Along those lines, we also saw a number of celebrity chefs talking about food waste and even opening up operations like Dan Barber’s Wasted, merging the worlds of wasted food and fine dining.

2016Important research was released in 2015, such as the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future study on consumer attitudes towards food waste. A CliffsNotes® version is that most people think they are doing better than the average person when it comes to not wasting food, highlighting that perceptions aren’t meeting reality.

The mainstream media covered food waste in 2015 more than ever before, including the New Yorker, NPR, and electronic media and television. Jordan Figueiredo, pioneer of the @UglyFruitandVeg campaign, was featured on the Today Show. John Oliver featured a succinct, funny, and moving segment on his HBO show that got right to the heart of the matter (search “wasted food, John Oliver” on You Tube).

A new concept emerged from Doug Rauch, former President of Trader Joe’s, when he opened the Daily Table in Dorchester, Massachusetts, a store providing fresh and nutritious foods to those in need while combating food waste. And Dana Gunders, staff scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, released the excellent Waste Free Kitchen Handbook, an at-home, tool-oriented manual for people to waste less food (see “Only You Can Prevent Food Waste,” November 2015).

Perhaps one of the most significant 2015 milestones was the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement of a first-ever U.S. goal to reduce food waste by 50 percent by the year 2030. This goal was set forth just ahead of the United Nation’s adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals that also include reducing food waste. Finally, in December, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME) announced the Food Recovery Act (H.R. 4184), a comprehensive bill that seeks to address food waste from the farm to table.

What a year! So what do we think is ahead for 2016? Here’s our list of17 Trends.

1. Rising Cost Of Waste

With the exception of a few key items like eggs, 2015 was a deflationary food cost environment. The concern is that there may be less pressure to reduce waste when prices are falling. However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects a return to food cost increases in 2016.

2. Data. More Data

Data is recognized as an essential tool in fighting food waste. In 2016, there will be a thirst for ever-greater data on quantification and characterization. It’s also time sensitive: with all the good work happening on reducing wasted food, baselines are needed very soon to allow progress to be measured. Many of us are fluent with the standard food waste statistics, but we need to make them stronger and ready to withstand hard questions from those who may wish to minimize the issue.

3. Emergence Of Standards

Data is needed that’s consistent and comparable. The World Resources Institute Food Loss & Waste Protocol, a standard on global food loss and waste management, should be available in the first quarter (Q1) of 2016. This protocol establishes the ability to compare data, share data, and create more accountability, all within a flexible framework. But a new standard for something as complex as food loss and waste measurement won’t be deployable without some effort. It will require persistence; we need to make sure we all commit to using these standards.

4. Zero Waste: Beware

I love the aspirational concept underlying zero food waste, both the idea of eliminating waste and closing loops throughout the production-consumption-recovery chain. However, I remain concerned that the term “zero waste” has become a marketing concept that doesn’t deliver on its promise (see “Fresh Look At Zero Food Service Waste,” December 2013). We need to focus on both prevention and diversion when talking about “Zero Waste,” and shouldn’t declare success when reaching a 90 percent diversion rate. Rather, we need to report on reduction in generation and then on increases to diversion. If we claim zero, we need to mean zero.

5. Evolving Frameworks

The terrific U.S. EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy might encounter competition in 2016, or at least pressure to evolve. Specifically, there’s tension between the industrial uses and composting tiers, where both are valid approaches. The ReFED initiative, spearheaded by Mission Point Capital Partners, will introduce a different framework entirely when its report is released in Q1 detailing food waste actions in the context of both impact and cost. They have drawn inspiration from the well-known McKinsey carbon abatement curve and applied similar methods to food waste.

6. U.S. National Waste Strategy

The United States needs to cut food waste in half by 2030, but how? Public officials need feedback and engagement from all of us. We have a short timeline to establish a strategy before all the players change with a new administration. We also need to support Congresswoman Pingree’s bill.

7. Greater Focus On The Consumer

In 2016, consumer education will take center stage. The Ad Council is releasing a campaign on food waste (think Smokey the Bear for food waste). Ad Council campaigns have historically been highly influential in changing perceptions and behaviors.

8. Talking About Wasted …Water

When we waste food, we waste water. With water so scarce in parts of the U.S. and globally, this is more apparent (and important) than ever. Access to water is one of the major issues of our time, and it will become a key part of the food waste discussion.

9. Public Sector Involvement At All Levels

In 2016, we’ll see much more public action at the city, county and state levels to address wasted food. This will grow beyond the cities and regions that were early adopters, as more communities set goals and provide technical assistance programs. There will also be work to define which municipal models work best and replicate them.

10. Emergence Of A Food Waste Sector

Someone recently asked me how to get involved in the “food waste industry.” At that moment I realized: “wow, we’re getting close to critical mass as an industry.” This includes nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), foundations investing in venture philanthropy, and an entrepreneurial segment. This community will be figuring out how best to work together in 2016, avoiding duplication and finding leverage.

11. Sacred Cows Revisited

In the food service world, there are some “sacred cows” that drive food waste and will be challenged in 2016. For example, in buffet environments, we’ll see more operations transition away from policies that “the last customer needs to have the same experience as the first” because those practices are simply too wasteful.

We should also challenge the adage, “when in doubt, throw it out.” In 2016, many will start to understand ways to get more value from food that might otherwise be discarded reflexively, and will do so without compromising safety. We’ll also continue to see more adoption of cosmetically imperfect produce.

12. Increased Focus On Food Recovery Solutions

There’s appropriate and growing focus on food recovery. Many nonprofits and entrepreneurs are working on new ways to connect excess food with people who need it (Feeding Forward, Spoiler Alert, Flash Food, Peninsula Food Runners, and Zero Percent are a few of many examples). We also expect more dialogue on whether prevention and recovery are food waste initiatives at odds. (I don’t think so, as is discussed in a LeanPath blog. There’s plenty of wasted food and plenty to prevent. But we need to be careful about messaging — prevention needs to be the #1 goal.

13. Continued Focus On Food Waste In Schools

This is a critically important avenue to address food waste over the long term, and we expect ongoing focus on childhood food waste education. The International Food Waste Coalition is leading a new initiative focused on changing food waste behavior in schools.

14. Regulation: Phase 2

In the past few years, we’ve seen a lot of regulation passed involving landfill restrictions on organic waste disposal. But most “bans” include caveats related to size of generator or available food waste recycling infrastructure. We expect more infrastructure to come online in 2016, which means it will be time for more to participate. That said, we don’t expect heavy focus on enforcement in 2016.

15. Packaging: Recognizing Tradeoffs

Packaging can substantially extend the longevity of certain food. Expect to see more empirical research in 2016 on the linkages and tradeoffs between packaging and food waste minimization.

16. New Foods

We expect culinarians and entrepreneurs to aggressively develop items that were previously considered “waste” and turn them into viable food products. In 2015, products like Coffee Flour, as well as a variety of dried fruit, jam and veggie snacks emerged. We await the tasty inventions of 2016!

17. Staying Power

From 2005 to 2015, the number of Google searches on “food waste” increased steadily. People are paying attention to this issue. However, there will always be other topics competing for attention. For example, in the recently released 2016 National Restaurant Association ”What’s Hot” Culinary Forecast, food waste slipped from number 9 to 19 on the list of chef’s priorities. We need to work hard to keep food waste management top of mind!

Andrew Shakman is a food waste prevention advocate and CEO of LeanPath, a food service technology company. Since cofounding LeanPath in 2004, Shakman has been working at the front lines of behavior change, helping food service operators prevent and minimize food waste in the U.S., Europe and Australia. LeanPath created the first automated and patented food waste smart meters to enable real-time monitoring of food waste. www.leanpath.com

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