The Trillion Dollar Problem

Food waste is a big problem. A $1 trillion per year problem.

At Boma’s Grow 2019 Agri Summit, Raymond McCauley of Exponential Biosciences noted that feeding nearly 10 billion people in the world by 2050 will require us to grow the same amount of food grown in the history of humanity over the next 30 years. We heard from Amy Keller of Pure Plus+ that we already have enough food to feed 10 billion people, we are just wasting it. Whether we’re producing enough food or not, waste is a critical issue that cannot be ignored.

The term Circular Economy means that we keep resources in use for as long as possible, reusing, upcycling and finding new uses for items previously thought of as “waste”. A strong Circular Economy is not only better for the environment, it also means more value is derived from the supply chain, with those items being turned into value-add products. 33% of food produced is never eaten. 40% of food grown in the US becomes food waste (it is likely similar here in Aotearoa New Zealand) and 50% of food waste is fruit and vegetables. If food waste were a country, it would be the third highest contributor of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions behind China and the United States of America.

Pure Plus+ is an exciting start-up producing an upcycled fruit and vegetable powder that is a replacement for sugar in a wide range of food and beverage products. Significant investment has gone into other start-ups looking to combat food waste, but how can we bring down waste levels overall? Escavox, a start-up based in Australia, is piloting a major project with Woolworths as part of their Fresh Insights initiative to track food from farm to plate. Food waste is a $20 billion per year problem in Australia alone and a significant amount of food is lost between the farm gate and the grocery store. In addition to providing transparency throughout the distribution chain, it is also an incredible tool to track temperature, time travelled and route to store. Analysis of our food supply chain can surely unlock further ways to reduce waste, helping not only the environment, but also bringing more value back to our food growers and producers.

I left Grow 2019 thinking about how I purchase, prepare and consume food, but found it hard to ignore the facts about our fibres. Bernadette Casey of The Formary noted that it requires 2,700 litres or 2.5 years of drinking water to make one cotton T-shirt. With 100 billion units of clothing purchased annually around the globe, it is just as important that we look at the environmental impact of our clothing and view all of our consumption choices holistically. The good news is we all have a choice of what we want to buy – let your wallet be your voice and continue to tell a new story, each day with your purchases.