Back to all

The Problem of Food Waste

Matt Schwartz \\ 05.06.2021

Sustainability

the problem of food waste

From the time we’re children learning to use a fork, to young adults learning to make our own meals, we’re taught not to waste food. And why would we want to? Every time we have to throw out a black banana, or a bunch of greens that have wilted to mush, it’s a visual representation of throwing away our hard-earned time and money. But more broadly, it represents the 30 to 40 percent of the world’s food supply that’s grown to be eaten, but winds up wasted in landfills instead. 

Multiply that one rotten banana in your own trashcan across the entire United States, and consider that each year, American consumers, businesses, and farmers spend approximately $218 billion growing, transporting, and disposing of food that’s ultimately never eaten. This enormous amount of food waste is detrimental not just economically, but environmentally, as well. 

Each year, the 52 million tons of wasted food that winds up in landfills generates 4.4 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions from the water, land, energy, and other natural resources used to produce it. That makes food waste the greatest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, ranked only behind the United States and China in terms of overall output. For these reasons, it’s clear why climate solution efficacy organizations like Project Drawdown rank reducing food waste as the most impactful solution for curbing global warming.

But as anyone who’s ever been a little overzealous with their health goals, or misinterpreted a recipe knows, keeping good food out of landfills is not always as simple as having the right intentions. It requires knowledge of the foods that are most vulnerable to waste, precise planning, and time to invest in making the best choices at the grocery store. The same complexities are true of food waste on the retail level, as well—because throwing out food at home is, unfortunately, only the last step in a long supply chain that encounters food waste at every stop from farm to fork. 

In the United States, about 40 percent of all food waste occurs at the retail level, with the highest occurrence in fresh food departments. And in some ways, that’s good news, because it means that majorly reducing the global warming impact of food waste could be as simple as giving grocers better tools for managing their fresh food inventories. It means that a future exists where the 52 billion tons of food waste that went into landfills last year, could be feeding hungry people instead. Further, better technology for grocers means adding days of shelf life to fresh foods, which empowers shoppers to reduce their environmental impact at home, where another nearly 45 percent of all food waste occurs.

Tackling food loss in our supply chains is an opportunity to better the environment, better the economy, feed more people, and waste less food. Because, of course, no one wants food to go to waste. Waste is expensive — it’s costly to the grocer, to the consumer, and most of all, to the planet. If the entire population had equal access to locally grown fresh food, then complicated supply chains that incur damaging waste might not be necessary. But that simply isn’t reality…

The reality is that the world’s population is predicted to reach 9.1 billion by 2050, and much of that substantial growth will happen within urban populations that rely on complex food supply chains to receive the nutrition they need. Optimizing each component of those supply chains is imperative to providing fresh, nutritious, accessible food to all people.

At Afresh, we know that major food waste intervention is economically and environmentally necessary on the retail level. We know that our role in preserving the planet and feeding the population means offering grocers the best, most cutting-edge tools for their fresh food departments, which have been neglected by technological innovation for far too long. Because fresh food may contain the most vital nutrition for human health, but it’s also the most difficult department for grocers to stock, due to outdated systems that actually increase waste.

Unlike non-perishable foods, the “expiration date” of fresh foods can’t simply be stamped on a box in a factory. The shelf life of fresh food depends on growing conditions, temperature control, crop varietal, changes in weather, seasonality, speed of delivery, delicacy in handling, and more. Legacy technology that’s not equipped to handle these ever-changing variables leads to poor forecasting and ordering, which leads to excess supply and diminished shelf life. And shelves that are overstocked with underachieving products result in the one thing that’s bad for the bottom lines of both grocers and consumers: food waste.  

Afresh is built specifically to support the fresh food perimeter, and all of its many variables. Grocers can count on Afresh technology to forecast better, order accurately, and as a result, decrease food waste dramatically. Powered by artificial intelligence, data proliferation, and user-friendly interfaces, Afresh reduces shrink in grocery stores by approximately 25 percent. For grocers, reducing waste means significantly improving profit margins and sustainability goals; for shoppers, it means lower prices on the foods they want most; and for the only earth we’ll ever have, reducing retail waste means the difference between filling a landfill with rotting food, and filling hungry bellies with nutritious, accessible, delicious fresh groceries.

The time has come to waste less and eat better. We have the technology necessary to reduce food waste at the retail level, and our planet doesn’t have the time to waste. Because good food isn’t meant to end up in a landfill. It’s meant to fill out plates, and nurture our bodies; it’s meant to excite our palates, and bring families around the table. Good food is meant to be eaten. And good technology can make that future a reality.


Matt Schwartz, Afresh

Matt Schwartz is the CEO of Afresh. His passion in life is to improve human and environmental health by solving problems in the food supply chain. Before Afresh, this passion led him to launch Statfoods, work in foodtech at The Production Board, manage operations at Simple Mills, and be a vegetarian buzzkill at dinner parties. Matt holds an MBA from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.