It is well known that food waste is a major contributor to the climate crisis. Here are recently-spotted innovations aiming to curb our global food waste problem.
David Attenborough’s recent “A Life On Our Planet” documentary has further highlighted the urgency of our need to change our habits, in order to curb a major climate crisis.
The methane produced by food in landfill is 25 times more harmful than carbon dioxide in terms of trapping heat in the atmosphere. With around 88 million tonnes of food waste generated annually within the EU alone, and associated costs estimated at 143 billion euros, it is well known that food waste is a major culprit in climate change.
Although efforts to reduce our food waste have become more universal in recent years, it is clearly still an issue. Here are seven innovations spotted by Springwise that aim to make preventing food waste easier, more efficient, and even more fun.
1. A FOOD LABEL THAT CHANGES COLOUR AND PRICE AS EXPIRATION DATE NEARS
As groceries reach their expiration date, supermarkets often relabel them with discount stickers – 20 per cent off, 40 per cent off, etc. The closer to the expiration date, generally, the greater the discount. But this relabelling can be time-consuming for staff and often leads to mistakes. To prevent this, three grad students at the National Taipei University of Technology have designed a better system.
The Taipei Tech students were awarded national runner-up in this year’s Dyson Awards for their idea, Barcodiscount. The concept consists of colour-changing stickers, which display different discounts based on the timing of the expiration date. For example, when a packet of meat is 48 hours from expiration, the words 20 per cent off appear on the label, and when the meat is 24 hours from expiration, this is automatically replaced with the words 40 per cent off.
The students used existing technology, which forces a colour change after a set period of time has elapsed. Normally, this is applied during the process of printing the labels, and the designated colour-change is set at a precise time — from 30 seconds to 30 days. However, the team devised a way for the timer to start when the label is applied at the shop, rather than printed.
2. SILK-NEEDLE SENSOR DETECTS FOOD SPOILAGE
Engineers at MIT have developed a sensor that pierces packaging to sample food for signs of bacterial contamination and spoilage. The sensor is made of microneedles moulded out of edible proteins similar to those found in silk cocoons. It is a first step toward developing an easy-to-read sensor that can help prevent food waste.
The microneedles resemble Velcro and measure about 1.6 millimetres long by 600 microns wide — just one-third the diameter of a strand of spaghetti. They are used to draw fluid into the back of the sensor, which is printed with two types of specialised ink. These bio-inks change colour when they come into contact with fluids at different pHs, indicating when bacteria Is present or when food is spoiled.
The researchers have successfully tested their sensors on fish deliberately infected with E. coli, indicating they could be used to head off outbreaks of salmonella and other bacterial infections. But the researchers also hope it could also help reduce the amount of food that is thrown out, by allowing people to easily check if the food that is past its sell-by date is still safe to eat.
3. AN APP THAT FINDS A NEARBY HOME FOR UNWANTED FOOD
Would you be surprised to learn that around €850 billion worth of food is wasted annually, making a food-waste mountain that weighs 1.3 billion tonnes? Tessa Clarke was not, especially after she packed up her apartment in Switzerland to move back to the UK and was struck by the fact that she could not find anyone to give her leftover food to. In response, she teamed up with fellow Stanford MBA grad Saasha Celestial-One and started Olio.
The premise of Olio is simple: users download the app, then snap photos of any food items that they don’t want and add them to the app’s listings. Users nearby receive alerts and can request the items. Pick-up is arranged by private messaging. According to Olio, 50 per cent of all food listings added to the app is requested in less than two hours.
In addition to food, Olio users can also offer non-food items. Around 1 million people have signed up to use the app in 46 countries, sharing around 1.2 million portions of food. The company was started with just €45,000 from the partners’ savings, but has now raised nearly €7 million from angel investors and venture capitalists and is planning to expand internationally.
4. TECH PRESERVES COOKED FOOD FOR YEARS
Spotted: What if food could be stored and shipped at room temperature, without preservatives? That is the goal of startup Ixon Food Technology. The company has developed a technology called sous-vide aseptic packaging that can sterilise food products at low temperatures, using a microwave-assisted thermal sterilisation process.
Ixon actually uses a variety of methods for sterilising food products. The packaging is sterilised using peroxide of peracetic acid. Liquids components are treated using a retort method, while a sous-vide style system is used to sterilise solid components. This applies high temperatures to only the outside surface of the foods, while the interior remains at lower temperatures.
Finally, all the components are combined in an aseptic environment at a higher temperature. The result is that the food tastes as if it were cooked normally. Because foods are not exposed to temperatures higher than 121c, they retain all of their nutrients, taste and texture. The company claims that its food products will be able to be stored safely at room temperature for 12 months.
Ixon plans to launch some products, including grilled sirloin steak and pork chops, on Kickstarter this autumn. According to Ixon founder and CEO Felix Cheung, “Our ASAP technology … allows food manufacturers to create shelf-stable packaged food with unprecedented taste, organoleptic qualities, as well as exceptional nutritional value.”
5. FRENCH APP COMBATS FOOD WASTE THROUGH COMMUNITY AND INFORMATION
Spotted: The aim of the Meal Canteen app is to reduce food waste. Through the app, users are able to book meals in advance of attendance. This allows catering staff at restaurants and schools to plan the amount of food they need in advance, ensuring a reduction in their food waste.
The app also provides information on where products originate, how they were made and what allergies they may contain. The long-term thinking with this approach is that by giving consumers more information about the food they eat, their eating habits can be redesigned to choose only the food they will finish, thus reducing food waste.
The start-up, comprised of 11 members, is working on new developments in the app, including a function to monitor calorific intake. They are also extending their reach to the employees of a group of banks, offering a meal payment function to the package.
6. EGG-BASED EDIBLE PRESERVATIVE KEEPS PERISHABLES FRESH
Spotted: A team from Rice University researchers have discovered a way to use the 200 million eggs that go to waste each year in the United States. Using both yolks and egg whites, the scientists created an edible, water-soluble protein coating that keeps food fresh for longer. Proteins are relatively good for the human body, which means the new preservative is not only better for the environment, but is also healthier to consume.
The preservative currently used most frequently is wax, which is fat-based and found on most supermarket produce. In tests, the egg-based coating’s preservation was comparable to that of wax. For consumers who cannot eat egg, the coating washes off in water. Consisting of 70 per cent egg, the other 30 per cent of the coating is a mix of ingredients that include cellulose and curcumin. The cellulose is made from wood and creates a barrier to water, which helps the food stay hydrated. Curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric and provides the antifungal qualities that help slow the ripening process.
Continued work on the preservative includes looking for additional agricultural waste products that could be used similarly. The team is also investigating plant-based proteins.
7. JAPANESE STUDENTS USE FLIES TO RECYCLE FOOD
Spotted: A group of University of Tokyo students have developed a new method for recycling food waste. The students were inspired by a trip to Phenom Penh, where they noticed a large amount of garbage rotting by the roadside. This waste is not only unsightly, but can create health problems. To solve this, the students came up with the idea of Grubin, a waste bin filled with larvae that will eat such organic waste.
The students developed a plastic bin filled with larvae of the black solder fly, Hermetia illucens. The idea is that the larvae will eat any organic waste thrown into the bin. Once the larvae are fully grown, they are collected from a special compartment inside the bin and then dried and ground into pellets, to be used as a sustainable source of animal feed for fish or chicken.
The students began a public crowdfunding campaign and participated in the 2017 Hult Prize, an international social entrepreneurship competition for students. The following year, the group won the Nippon Foundation Social Innovation Award and received a 10 million-yen (€84239.05) prize. This award provided seed funding to the students, who formed the Grubin project to bring their idea into commercial reality.
Written By: Holly Hamilton
23rd October 2020