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  • Farah Al Jallad

Restaurants Reopen and Food Waste is Back in Season

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, food waste is the most common component of American trash, accounting for more than 35% of the average household's garbage can. A study done by the FOA found that if food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gas, after the U.S. and China.

food waste at hotel
Food waste from a hotel social gathering. Credit: Shutterstock/Libin Jose

As climate change is increasingly putting pressure on the global agricultural sector’s ability to feed the growing human population, food waste amplifies the effect by simultaneously fueling global warming and hunger. The amount of available arable land is finite, and dwindling soil quality often translates into the further destruction of forests for land to grow food that needlessly ends up in landfills.

Although the problem is enormous, it may not be inevitable, and encouraging the practice of composting could help. Additionally, one company, Choco, just raised $100 million in Series B funding to expand a food supply chain digitization product to help make the flow of food more efficient and sustainable.

In the right conditions, like compost, food breaks down without releasing any harmful gas. However, there isn't enough oxygen circulating in a landfill for the food to break down effectively. As a result, organic matter releases methane gas, one of the most potent greenhouse gases, into the atmosphere. Because of its effective ability to trap heat in the atmosphere faster than most other gases, methane is up to 35 times as potent as carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.

Methane produced from landfills accounts for 15.1% of all methane emissions in the U.S., and according to a Yale study, this number may be even higher. The quantity of greenhouse gas created by food waste is equivalent to the emissions of 32.6 million cars in the U.S. alone. Current food production levels could feed 1.5 times the world's population, but 30-40% of food produced globally is wasted. In addition, animal agriculture is one of the world's foremost contributors to climate change, producing about 35-40% of human-made methane. Food waste and animal agriculture combined make up more than a third of greenhouse gas emitted globally.

When food is wasted, the energy, resources and land it takes to grow the food are also exhausted. It’s estimated that almost a third of the world’s sufficient food-producing land has vanished at a rate that significantly outpaces the Earth’s natural process to replenish depleted soil. Research by the FAO shows that 55% of erosion is caused by animal agriculture.

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Millions of acres of native grassland are being lost due to agriculture. The livestock industry is the leading cause of deforestation and is responsible for 75% of forest degradation in the Brazilian Amazon. As much as 35% of the Amazon has already been lost, leading to the ecosystem now emitting more carbon to the atmosphere than it absorbs — a dire reality for the planet’s climate system. The high rate of deforestation due to animal agriculture is radically changing entire ecosystems and leading to the extinction of many species.

Estimated to toss between 22 and 33 billion pounds of food every year, restaurants are a significant culprit in the food waste crisis. Although many were shuttered in 2020 during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, food waste is again on the rise with the reopening of economies.

The startup company, Choco, named after biodiversity hotspot Choco District Colombia, is attempting to fight food waste in restaurants. Choco was founded in 2018 with a mission to reduce food waste while helping to keep restaurants alive as they struggle to stay afloat after the pandemic. Choco is reportedly the first to offer buyers next-day delivery while taking more significant sustainability measures since products will be offered fresh, locally and with minimal packaging. The company operates through an app allowing restaurant owners and food suppliers to order online, minimizing time and human errors. Choco is currently working with 10,000 restaurants and suppliers on its platform in the U.S. and Europe.

"For an industry still largely driven by paper, Choco helps restaurants and suppliers not only digitize order management workflows but increase margins, efficiency and transparency all while enabling growth and accelerating the world towards sustainable food systems,” said Rachel Geller, managing director at Insight Partners.

Chef Matt Orlando from Amass Restaurant in Copenhagen shared tips to reduce waste in restaurants:


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