Ending food waste

Much of the food in the fields is discarded unnecessarily and never reaches the consumer. To a large extent, this is the fault of the consumers themselves, points out Toine Timmermans, Programme Manager Sustainable Food Chains at Wageningen UR.

 β€œThe main motivations are tastefulness, convenience, health and price.  There are also many people who would like their consumption to be more sustainable but do not always know how to make this happen.”  A study at Marks & Spencer showed that 75 percent of customers want their purchasing to be socially responsible.

Actual buying behaviour, however, is decided after deliberations based on motivation, availability and capacities (including finances and familiarity). An intention to do the right thing may or may not ultimately be translated into actual behaviour. The same model may be detected in the way people dispose of food. Between 1.5 and 2.5 million tons of food, which corresponds to 4.6 billion euros, is thrown away in the Netherlands annually. Consumers are responsible for more than half of this value loss. 

While consumers prefer to throw away less, they often lack sufficient knowledge of the actual quality of the food.

The rest is caused by private quality standards, oversupply in certain seasons, inefficient processing, errors in planning and the passing of product shelf-life in warehouses and shops. While consumers prefer to throw away less, they often lack sufficient knowledge of the actual quality of the food. People have largely lost the capacity to use their own senses to assess this and rely therefore on the information provided on the package – i.e., the best before date – which does not indicate when something has become inedible.

A useful development designed by Timmermans and a team of scientists from the semiconductor sector is a smart chip/(tag) which can measure and predict when a fresh produce is best to eat. Just one square millimetre in size, the chip can measure temperature, humidity, pH and concentrations  of CO2. In the future it will also measure the plant hormone ethylene to predict the shelf life of meat, ripening of fruit or vase life of flowers. This chip can be read out wireless by, for example, a mobile phone or (in the future) a smart fridge, and warns people to consume the product in time.