Re-imagining the Food System: The Hefty Price of Waste and Lost Opportunities
n 2014, U.S. companies sent a staggering 342 million metric tons of trash to landfills. The top three waste categories are paper at 37%, food at 21% and plastic at 17%. While it’s not surprising to me that food waste made the top three, it is disheartening.
In fact, one-third of all food produced - equivalent to 1.3 billion tons - ends up rotting in garbage bins at consumer homes and retailer locations or spoiling due to inadequate transportation and harvesting practices.
The problem is that food production requires a staggering amount of land, water, and energy resources. For 1 pound of edible beef to reach the consumer, it takes more than 600 gallons of water, 1.8 pounds of grain, 50 pounds of carbon-dioxide, and 500 megajoules of energy. When we discard food, these resources are also wasted and this comes at a high cost. For U.S. companies, this represents about 15% of the industry’s total revenue - each year growing, processing, and transporting food that is never eaten.
Food and beverage is not the only industry facing the economic impact of waste. Ten percent of all e-commerce packages arrive at customer homes damaged, and another 10% are not shipped in appropriate packaging.
That results in wasted paper, plastic, and energy, and makes this industry’s tight profit margins even tighter.
Many companies recognize these resource challenges, but some don’t view the issue as holistically as they should. We must work together to address the issue as it impacts our future, the environment and the long-term profitability of our businesses. More leaders need to start thinking about eliminating waste from our economy and moving towards a zero-waste business model.
While some companies are starting to leverage data from connected devices or software to better monitor their waste, what really matters is what is done with the data.
By embracing this concept, we can turn loss into value and make progress towards significant waste reductions. Zero waste means that our businesses and industries are operating at peak efficiency, something we should all be striving to achieve.
Businesses could better use that data to become proactive, relevant, and predictive, anticipating waste and inefficiency before they occur.
Waste is a big problem that requires companies to work together to implement solutions. To truly prevent waste, we need a multi-faceted network that is capable of having big impacts at every stop along the global supply chain.
At Sealed Air, we’ve partnered with our customers in the food industry and beyond to help reduce their waste and improve their bottom lines. One UK retailer, for example, has eliminated 350,000 kilograms of food and packaging waste from its operations and is saving $19 million annually by using vacuum-skin packaging that extends the shelf life of their fresh meat products. In e-commerce, we have helped online retailers save millions annually by reducing product damage and improving their customer's experience.
Every product—from filet mignons to 3D TV sets—represents a resource investment. We should focus on reducing our environmental footprint and protecting that investment appropriately.
For the U.S. food industry, implementing food waste prevention strategies could result in $1.9 billion in profits.
These gains are not small potatoes. At the end of the day, our industry and every company must take all of this in to account and work together to solve this global problem.
To learn more about how your food and beverage industry can reduce waste, read "Improving Food Safety at The Source".