Even though 41 million Americans face food insecurity, the USDA estimates that as 40% of food produced in the US is wasted. The EPA found that Americans waste more food per year than any other country in the world. This wasted food ends up in landfills due to unethical business practices, overabundance of donations, and most of all, spoilage. In fact, at 21%, food is the largest component taking up space in US landfills. Aside from the contributions to landfills, wasted food also wastes the time and resources required to manufacture, package, and distribute food. Though tossing your leftovers may not seem like a big deal, the current rate of wasted food is having huge environmental impacts.
There are several interrelated reasons for why we waste so much of our food. The primary reason is spoilage, both real and imagined. Due to low costs and commercial marketing practices, most Americans over purchase food and are unable to eat it all before it spoils. 80% of people also throw away non-spoiled food because they misunderstand expiration labels
There is also the issue of perceived value. The easy accessibility of food for the majority of Americans, causes them to value it less. This results in them throwing away leftovers or scraps that could have been eaten or composted. Many people also do not properly preserve their food, causing it to spoil more quickly.
The USDA and EPA have developed a plan to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030. They have launched an education program to teach people the consequences of wasted food and how to reduce waste in their own home. They also developed the U.S. Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champion program where companies can commit to reducing food waste in their own operations.
Many states are creating laws to restrict food waste. Legislators in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont have passed laws that restrict the amount of food waste going to landfills. Vermont established a Universal Recycling Law that bans food scrap waste altogether by the end of this year.
Entrepreneurs are also helping out by creating products to mitigate food waste. There are several apps on the market that give more accurate information on expiration dates so people don’t erroneously throw away still edible groceries. Developments in food packaging are also helping to extend the shelf life of foods so people have more time to eat it before it expires.
I was lucky enough to talk with one of these food packaging entrepreneurs, Toby Thomas. Thomas is the president, CEO, and founder of SoFresh, a company dedicated to fighting food waste through innovative packaging that extends the shelf life of various foods. Thomas has 30 years of experience in the food packaging industry and over 40 patents. You probably have at least one of his products in your kitchen, like the Hefty OneZip or the Presto Slide-Rite.
SoFresh (short for Science of Fresh) packaging is a film of plastic that “wraps food in an atmosphere of food grade vapor inhibiting mold growth that extends food travel life, shelf life and consumption time” In trials, SoFresh film materials have shown to improve the shelf life of bakery products by 5 to 30 days! Thomas says that SoFresh is planning to launch as B2B, supplying bakeries with packaging so food lasts longer with retailers, but says he hopes to expand into homes as well as supermarkets.
SoFresh film uses natural, food safe vapors to kill air born mold that grows on food. By enveloping products in this vapor, food lasts longer without the need for artificial preservatives. Thomas says that he and his team were inspired by the mold inhibiting properties found naturally in foods like wasabi and mustard. In fact, an early form of SoFresh, made from 2000-2004, used the same chemical that keeps mustard from spoiling. They found that this chemical was so pungent, it altered the taste of the food. Over the years they have found other naturally occurring foods that were just as effective without affecting the taste of the food. They incorporate these chemicals into the packaging instead of being added to the food. Using naturally occurring chemicals in the packaging to keep food fresh longer diminishes the need for artificial preservatives, making food healthier and more accessible.
Like most of us, Thomas had his plans disrupted by Covid-19. The initial launch of SoFresh was scheduled for March 2020 but was pushed back due to the pandemic. Thomas sees this as a blessing in disguise. “Pushing back the launch gave us time to really figure out the benefits of [our product] and developing our brand’s mission”. Planning for tomorrow, SoFresh wishes to help reduce food waste in the US to 10%. They also want an increased distribution of preservative-free food to make healthy food accessible to all. “There is a fine line between sustainability and food safety”, Thomas said. Hopefully companies like SoFresh can help us find a happy medium for everyone.
SoFresh is a great example of entrepreneurs creating solutions that supplement political action and individual lifestyle changes. Change in the private sector is essential if we are going to create a more sustainable future. Luckily market trends are heading that way and hopefully more businesses will follow in suit. Entrepreneurs have the power to make big waves in the world with their products, missions, and practices. Starting your own business is not easy, but it can be incredibly rewarding. I leave you with Thomas’s thoughts on being an entrepreneur: “It’s a lot harder than I ever expected… the highs are high and the lows are low, but it’s always exciting.
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