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The data and insights we get from technology let us tackle the issue with a level of nuance – and on a scale – that was unprecedented until now

Climate change is the defining issue of our time. It is no longer a distant threat, but something we are dealing with right now. And the Covid-19 pandemic has shone an even greater light on the devastating impact humanity is having on our precious planet.

Sustainability is becoming an increasingly important area for businesses to consider. Nowhere is this more evident than in the grocery sector. Consumer pressure is growing and retailers are making operational changes to shore up businesses for this greener future.

However, food waste is still a problem. Current figures show 40% of all food produced globally is wasted.

When food goes to landfill, it creates methane – a greenhouse gas 27 times more potent than carbon dioxide. And that’s not the only problem.

When we waste food, we not only waste the plate in front of us, but also the valuable resources within. Producing food requires a huge amount of land to be converted and irrigated, leading to deforestation. Fertilisers are used to grow it, and labour to process it. Energy is used to refrigerate it at the right temperature, fuel used to transport it, and electricity spent to adequately store it.

So, when we throw food away towards the end of the chain, all these resources are wasted.

Not only is this having a huge societal and economic impact – we waste 1.3 billion tonnes of food yearly while 870 million people go hungry, and in the UK we spend six times as much on disposing food waste as we do on funding the police – food waste is also directly responsible for 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

As a result, climate experts have said that reducing food waste is one of the most impactful actions we can all take to address global warming.

So why are we still wasting food? Lack of awareness of the severity of the issue is costing us, the health of our planet and our futures.

Despite 88% of the British adult population thinking they could be living more sustainably, 70% are still unaware of the connection between food waste and climate change. While businesses are taking action to address their carbon footprint, many are not putting food waste high enough up the agenda.

The good news? International action to combat the issue is encouraging.

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 specifically takes aim at food waste. Meanwhile, legislation passed in France and Italy takes proactive steps to prevent supermarkets from throwing away unsold food.

Moves like these show progress as food waste, and our food system, is finally starting to be taken seriously. Though this progress needs to accelerate and be adopted globally.

Furthermore, technology can play an even more vital role in shifting the dial and solving the problem.

The data and insights we get from technology let us tackle the issue with a level of nuance – and on a scale – that was unprecedented until now. Machine learning technology is helping to monitor freshness of produce in shipping containers, providing options for what to do with food if shipments are delayed so it doesn’t go to waste. Forecasting tools are using AI to analyse the weather, the day of the week and special events, predicting demand more accurately than ever before. Smart bins are photographing and weighing the contents of food bins to help track exactly which foods, and how much of them, are going to waste.

When it doesn’t go right, apps are available to provide a safety net for when retailers find themselves with surplus that is not able to be sold on the shop floor. They can let people buy unsold food from local stores so that not only are businesses not wasting resources, they are also able to recover otherwise sunk costs. The even better news is that apps provide friction-free solutions to reduce food waste without requiring hours of training or lengthy processes to be put in place.

By harnessing technology to tackle the issue at all levels of the supply chain, we can take a bite out of the problem, driving the food waste movement forward and creating a healthier planet for us all. Now is the time for understanding, progress and action.