Fighting food waste through legislation, AI

Spain hopes to have the law in place by early 2023 to curb the amount of food that lands in the garbage instead of on someone’s plate, and to reduce environmental costs.
Fighting food waste through legislation, AI
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1.36 million metric tons — that’s how much food Spain wastes every year, according to Luis Planas, the country’s agricultural, fisheries and food minister. That equates to 31 kilograms (68 pounds) per person of perfectly good food that gets tossed each year. Madrid is planning to bring this number down with a new set of regulations to rein in food waste. The government approved a draft bill that would see supermarkets fined for throwing away surplus food — by up to 60,000 euros ($57,000), or as high as 500,000 euros for repeat offenders. The law, if passed by parliament, would also make it mandatory for restaurants to offer so-called “doggy bags” for guests to take home their left-overs.

Spain hopes to have the law in place by early 2023 to curb the amount of food that lands in the garbage instead of on someone’s plate, and to reduce environmental costs. While millions of people suffer from hunger, every day across the world food is wasted at all points along the production chain, from farm to plate. The measures now on the table in Spain are one way to tackle this global problem. But there are also many other approaches governments, organizations and individuals are taking to reduce food waste.

Spain’s parliamentarians will still need to vote on the new law. In France, it is already illegal for supermarkets to destroy or throw away unsold food. They have to donate it instead, providing meals to charities or foodbanks. The law was introduced in 2016 after a grassroots campaign by shoppers and activists working to tackle poverty and food waste. That is a change that Simone Welte, nutrition expert with the Welthungerhilfe, a German aid organization that fights hunger worldwide, would like to see in Germany as well.

“The process of donating to food banks needs to be better organized,” Welte told DW. “And it should be allowed to donate foods that have passed their best-by date, because those usually aren’t bad yet.” The Felix Project, which has been tackling hunger and food waste in London since 2016. “It’s predominantly a logistics operation,” Amy Heritage, a spokesperson for the Felix Project, said. A giant logistics operation — the NGO has four large warehouses in different corners of London, as well as a large kitchen. They collect food that would otherwise be thrown away from more than 400 suppliers, like supermarkets and restaurants. Then the food is organized and checked by a large number of volunteers, before it is redistributed to the roughly 1,000 local organizations the Felix Project works with. The places receiving food include charities, foodbanks, community kitchens and schools.

By the end of the year, the Felix Project estimates, it will have distributed the equivalent of 40 million meals across London. In 2021, it was 30 million meals. In 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic, the number stood at six million meals.

Winnow, a company based in the United Arab Emirates, is using artificial intelligence (AI) to help large commercial kitchens reduce their food waste. Clients include companies, hotels, restaurants and cruise ship lines in 45 countries across the world. The way it works, Winnow spokesperson Maria Sanu explained to DW, is simple: The garbage cans in Winnow’s clients’ kitchens are equipped with scales and cameras that record information about what food and how much of it is thrown away. That information is compiled into daily, weekly or monthly reports that the chefs can use to adjust the amount of groceries they buy.

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