Impact Connections: Sustainable Food for Thought by Cole Leslie, Food+City Communications Specialist
Food waste is one of the biggest sustainability challenges we face, not just within food and agriculture, but also within the broader scope of limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Project Drawdown, a global think-tank dedicated to carbon reduction research and initiatives, ranks food waste as the number three issue. At Food+City, we believe innovation is the key to solving this supply chain problem, and we are dedicated to catalyzing the creative solutions from startups and entrepreneurs.
We’ve received hundreds of application to our startup challenge from people who are motivated to reduce food waste in a variety of ways. While our program is unable to include every one of the fantastic startups working in this space, we have been fortunate to work with several brilliant companies that are diverting thousands of tons of food from landfills. Most interestingly, their solutions showcase larger strategic themes in food waste innovation.
Composting food waste is not a new technology, but we’ve seen several companies that are innovating by making it easier than ever for restaurants and individuals to implement composting. In Austin, GrubTubs, is a company that collects food waste and uses it to grow insects to be used as animal feed. Joe’s Organics in Austin, Rust Belt Riders in Cleveland, and Garbage to Garden in Portland ME, are other compost innovators that Food+City has worked with.
Grocery stores and restaurants are subject to strict laws about expiration dates; combined with food safety concerns, this leads to a lot of food waste. Often times the food is not spoiled; it’s just not optimally fresh. Many companies, such as the French company Phoenix, have created a system to capture the unsold food from grocery stores and restaurants and donate it to charities and nonprofits to feed people.
Another trend that is fighting food waste is taking by-products from one process, and transforming them into new, value-added products. The most known example is taking aquafaba, the leftover liquid from cooking chickpeas, and turning it into mayo. 2017 Food+City Challenge winner Rise Products, in Brooklyn, takes spent brewer grain and turns it into flour, which then becomes delicious brownies, and other treats.
Other interesting approaches attack food waste in the supply chain prior to purchase. FreshSurety produces sensors that fit on pallets to better track shipments of food in real time. Knowing temperature and humidity requirements can go a long way to preserve sensitive crops like strawberries. Hazel Technologies produces a sachet of organic material that slows the oxidation process of food during transport. Most of our food supply travels long distances from harvest to purchase, so monitoring conditions during transit can have a big impact.
Each one of these themes has dozens if not hundreds of startups working within it. Solving the massive problem of food waste will take all of their efforts and more. Considering the scope of the problem, and what is at stake, it will also take creative thinking from entrepreneurs, corporations and individuals to come up with solutions that we haven’t thought of yet.
Food+City, in addition to collaborating with startups working on food supply chain problems, publishes a biannual print and digital magazine, sponsors events for the Austin community, and now has an office on the UT campus to more fully involve students and faculty with our work. International startups gain access to mentorships, package prizes, exposure at SxSW, and access to funding opportunities through our annual Startup Challenge. Applications for the current Startup Challenge, which is open for the first time ever this year to students, are due by November 16. Students needing the application fee waived can apply here.
Currently we are raising funds for our Food Futures speaker series on campus through our HornRaiser campaign. Please give today! Learn more by visiting the Food+City Website here or following us on Facebook here.