7 technologies to implement for tackling food waste in the supply chain

The annual cost of food waste in the UK alone is £9.7 billion, with the top four food retailers generating a combined volume of waste estimated at £350 million per year.

Household food waste has increased by nearly a third in the COVID-19 lockdown thanks to panic buying and increased food deliveries. Bread, milk, chicken and potatoes are currently the most binned items in the UK.

Adding to that volume of waste, according to The Guardian, nearly half of the restaurants threw most food waste into the bin due to irregular ordering patterns.

The pandemic has severely impacted all those good intentions around minimising food waste to landfill.

The ripple effect of the current scenario has made keeping up with consumer wishes challenging, and this has had an adverse impact on business plans and processes, especially when it comes to the food supply chain.

However, new technologies are being developed worldwide that can play a crucial role in reducing waste across all stages of the supply chain by focusing on visibility and intelligent decisions. In this article, we discuss six such technologies:

Software to monitor food transport and storage

Inefficient transport systems and delays in the distribution process lead to significant waste, especially for perishable goods. Only 30% of businesses, in fact, have complete visibility over their moving goods.

The technology could potentially reduce food waste in supply chains by up to 240 billion pounds. For instance, intelligent routing procedures could calculate the most efficient paths for food trucks to take to their destination and track each vehicle as it moves.

It can also be used to forecast demand better, determine appropriate truck and container sizes, minimise excessive inter-store stock movement and so on.

Biotech to improve the appearance of the produce

A large fraction of fruits and vegetables get discarded because they do not look appealing. Biotechnology startups are working on solutions that can be fitted into the current supply chain without extra effort.

For instance, US-based Apeel Sciences has developed an invisible edible coating for fruits and vegetables that slows down the rate of water evaporation and thus degradation. In contrast, Hazel Technologies has a small packet that gives out an odour to delay ripening and ward off mould and bacteria when added to produce-packaging.

Software to monitor freshness

The software can help food suppliers and retailers make smart decisions about food freshness and when it is time to throw something out. For example, Spoiler Alert analyses waste levels and suggests waste reduction tactics while also integrating food donation into the workflow.

This tool requires some manual inputs from the user – Winnow, on the other hand, uses a smart scale to weigh and code food waste and then suggest reduction strategies. Both are being used extensively by food and hospitality businesses.

Another useful mobile tool oriented towards groceries is Wasteless, which uses digital price tags that allow dynamic product pricing based on their shelf life.

Using Anaerobic Digestion to produce biogas

AD is the process by which food waste breaks down to produce a methane-rich gas (biogas) that can be used as sustainable energy via CHP and a high-quality natural fertiliser, respectively.

Waste2ES, a food waste management and recycling solutions company in Hertfordshire, has slowly emerged as a pioneer in combating food waste. Their systems, iD-R-250, iD-R-500, (aerobic digestion) and iD-R-5K (anaerobic digestion) help eliminate food waste across a variety of business types.

Simply put, the systems implement Aerobic and Anaerobic Digestion technologies to unlock, drain and remove the water held naturally in the fabric of food waste, and consolidate the calorific content in the food. The systems economically convert food waste into an odour-free and valuable stored energy form.

IoT to monitor food containers

The internet of things (IoT) has valuable applications when it comes to monitoring the temperature and freshness of produce that is being transported. For instance, Maersk Line has developed a Remote Container Management software that lets businesses monitor the ebb and flow of temperature in refrigerated containers in real-time.

Again, Freshurety uses disposable sensors to assess the degrees of freshness in a container of fruits so that they can be allocated to appropriate uses (such as selling whole, adding to cooked food or blending into frozen food).

Data sharing for collaborative efforts

Technology can help at each stage of the food supply chain to share timely inputs and thus respond to delays or crises that could otherwise lead to wastage and food shortages. Data about current inventories, demand forecasting, storage space required, location tracking for food trucks or product perishability can be made available on a digital supply chain network that gets updated in real-time.

Imagery to make timely and efficient decisions

Technology can help food suppliers determine the freshness of produce without cutting into it or making guesses. For instance, AgShift uses deep learning in its mobile app that can check produce for bruising, colour, size and freshness, while ImpactVision uses hyperspectral imagery to detect the level of dry matter in avocados and thus their degree of ripeness.

Over to you

With real financial, ethical and sustainability factors at stake, businesses cannot afford to ignore food waste any more. However, wasting less food doesn’t have to be  time-consuming or so complicated.

With the help of right technology, one can not only examine the overall supply chain and calculate the food loss throughout the process but also reap both monetary and environmental benefits that food waste can bring to the table.

If your business is struggling to combat food waste, connect with us to find out more about how our systems can help you.

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