Sustainable Innovations in Food

By Linda Ng Published on Nov. 01, 2018

Currently, numerous environmental and economic conflicts exist that can be prevented by reducing our carbon or waste footprint. This calls for the implementation of sustainable innovations within package waste, agricultural tech, food production, and the ocean and seafood industry. Focusing on such factors will improve our ecosystem and maximize value in our food resources, contributing to and maintaining food sustainability.

Food sustainability is the production of plant, fiber, or animal products with the consideration of preserving environmental, social, and economic resources. Overall, the goal is to provide sustainability while preserving the ecosystem, otherwise, the Earth would not survive for very long.

Both food sustainability and corporate sustainability focus on saving the economic, environmental, and social aspect of the world. Seeing the need for viable resources, companies have developed products with the potential to reduce waste while providing the most optimal goods, aiming to contribute their share to food sustainability.

Finding Proper Packaging 

Packaging helps protect and preserve the freshness of food. However, materials used don’t exactly benefit the environment. In fact, inefficient packaging is responsible for over 60% of our waste footprint. Specifically, packaging of hair products, beverages, and laundry-related items make up for more than one-third of America’s waste footprint.

Packaging made from plastic is eminently the worst material threatening Earth’s ecosystem. Every year, an $80 billion loss occurs in the world economy due to plastic packaging waste. The material also dramatically affects ocean wildlife by demolishing 100 million animal lives once it enters the ocean. 

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In order to alleviate this, the food industry must follow a circular economy model. A circular economy is a cycle where resources are used and kept to their maximum value and time, then reused or recycled to be consumed again. By finding multiple purposes for and different types of packaging, the amount of harmful waste produced can be reduced significantly, minimizing the impact on wildlife and the environment.

Companies have already created possible packaging alternatives for the benefit of sustainability through decomposing, natural and intelligent materials. In the food industry, a Swedish design company has created a unique, environment-friendly material made of caramelized sugar that easily dissolves once the content inside is used. Many companies have also used edible packaging composed of natural food particles, algae, and sugars and fully-resealable films as eco-friendly and consumer-friendly packaging substitutes.

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Within the beverage industry, Coca-cola has distributed bottles made out of biodegradable material. Partially made from plants, these bottles can reduce the carbon footprint in the world. Researchers have developed PHBOTTLE, a biodegradable bioplastic that utilizes sugars in juice wastewater in an effort to help bottling plants become zero-waste.

In terms of spoilage, there are other innovative alternatives to preserve or extend the freshness of food. The concept of intelligent packaging assists consumers in determining the freshness of produce. A prime example consists of a detection sticker that has a color scale indicating the levels of freshness, making it easier on consumers.

AgTech: Agriculture + Technology 

Agriculture is primitive for the food on our table and explains the need for extensive measures to preserve the richness of its practice. With the world population growing more than ever before, the production of agriculture must increase proportionately. Not to mention that less have chosen to work in farming due to little profit margins and challenges such as price variations, intense crop cultivation knowledge, and climate changes. However, everyone is dependent on agriculture, which in turn means everyone depends on farming. 

The number of resources needed to meet the growing demand for food must be achieved through sustainable methods since the ultimate goal is to continuously produce agriculture while reducing our environmental footprint at the same time. Thus, the application of sustainable innovative technology has the potential to reduce conflicts regarding the cultivation of agriculture.

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With new innovations in agriculture technology (agtech), farmers can utilize tools and technology to not only prevent erosion, loss of soil quality and small crop yields, but also maximize efficiency and effectiveness of their farming practices. For example, precision farming uses advanced technology that employs real-time data and digitally detects areas of concern within a farm. Since 90% of crop losses are caused by unexpected weather, utilizing weather forecast data can minimize this loss by determining how much water crops need on a daily basis. Overall, these technological advances maximize crop yield while minimizing time and money spent on harvesting.

Food printing also has tremendous potential in the agtech industry since 3D printing can reduce high costs related to labor. In addition, it prevents food spoilage of produce that occurs during the long journey from farm to market. Instead, fruits can be broken down to their powdered micronutrients and rehydrated to their original form through 3D printing at grocery stores, decreasing the chances of damage and loss of produce.

Food Distribution and Consumption

Apart from production, food distribution and consumption also experience large problems that contribute to high levels of food waste and misuse. Roughly one-third of food worldwide are expired or lost before being available for consumption. In the US, nearly 62 million tons of food is wasted every year, which is equivalent to a $218 million loss.

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These astounding losses have led to recycling and repurposing food that’s been tossed, such as producing ketchup from disposed tomatoes. In an effort to be more sustainable, companies are now taking advantage of trashed but still edible parts of food and thrown out food surpluses in an effort to creatively increase the world’s food supply. In addition, companies are looking to “ugly” fruits, produce usually tossed out because of their unappealing shape, to reduce food waste by transforming them into juices. Such sustainable innovations allow producers and consumers to conveniently reuse food, adding value to seemingly invaluable produce. 

The Ocean and Us 

A popular source of protein, seafood has been long used for human consumption. To obtain the best quality of seafood, it is important to consider source of seafood: the ocean. As the largest ecosystem on Earth, the ocean is valuable for its biodiversity and great capability in producing and providing numerous resources. However, human actions have damaged some, if not most, of the sea’s resources. Pollution, overfishing, oil drills, and plastic waste have all contributed to the degradation and destruction of 70% of the Earth’s surface.

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In order to revitalize the ecosystem, companies have come up with innovative technologies that will reduce waste, rebuild the ecosystem, and maximize the value of seafood. Rapid growth of the seafood industry is enticing investors to create sustainable technologies in order to maintain the availability of the produce. Not to mention, the middle-class are growing more health-conscious in their seafood consumption habits.

New technologies can maintain and support the richness of the oceanic food industry. For example, companies have developed devices to detect and adapt to climate changes, improved fishing gear, products and materials, modified supply chain operations, and new fish feeds. Incorporating such advancements will prevent environmental issues while maximizing the value of seafood and reduce diseases and produce loss. Supply chain operations have the potential improve, especially with the increase of online sales. Lastly, new feeds made of non-fish ingredients are being developed to sustainably feed farmed fish, especially since current fish feeds are expensive as is.

In order to preserve the economy, the world must reduce its carbon footprint. Luckily, innovative technologies have advanced and will continue to in the future, evolving the sustainability movement. So much less food, resources, and production will go to waste when better solutions arise and are implemented widely by food producers, distributors, and consumers. By targeting packaging, agriculture, the ocean and seafood industry, and food distribution, food sustainability has the power to reduce waste, carbon emissions, time and money while preserving the natural environment and the health of humans.

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