FOOD WASTE: IT’S KIND OF A BIG DEAL
Did you know that over a third of food produced globally is wasted? More than 1.3 billion tonnes get thrown away every year. It happens at various stages of the food chain: pre-harvest, in factories, in transit, in retail, and at home. It’s a huge problem, in which resources used throughout production – such as water, land and labour – are also wasted. More than enough reason to fight the problem, don’t you think? Read on to see why it matters, where Soilmates come in, and how you can help.
At the risk of oversimplifying the importance of preventing food loss and waste, its impact can be broken down into three distinct issues.
The first is a social issue: world hunger. In the EU alone, 33 million people can’t afford a quality meal every second day. Secondly, food loss has an economic impact – it’s a drain on money, time and resource: costs associated with EU food waste come to an estimated €143 billion annually.
Lastly, there are environmental implications. The scale of food thrown away results in 3.3 billion metric tonnes in annual carbon dioxide emissions. If that seems like too much to picture, this may help: if food waste were a country, it would be responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other country in the world, after China and the United States. Mental, eh? We think so, too.
THE FOOD WASTE HIERARCHY
The food waste hierarchy was created to help differentiate between food loss and food surplus. It indicates how best to reduce loss as it moves throughout the food chain.
1) Prevent: avoid surplus food generation. (This is the most favourable option.)
2) Re-use: re-use surplus food for human consumption. (This is where Soilmates come in!)
3) Recycle: recycle surplus food into animal feed or compost.
4) Recover: treat unavoidable food waste and recover energy (i.e. biofuels).
5) Dispose: as a last resort, dispose of food waste into engineered landfills. (This is the least favourable option.)
Ideally, all unavoidable surplus food would be upcycled back into the hierarchy, starting as close to the top of the pyramid as possible. So where do avocados fit in?
AVOCADOS: A EUROPEAN STAPLE?
Avocados were once rather exotic, weren’t they? Now it seems as though they’re on every second breakfast and lunch menu. And that’s probably because they are. 417 million kilograms of avocados are imported to the EU each year. 62% of these arrive on the European continent via Rotterdam – one of the world’s biggest ports.
The scale of avocados reaching the Netherlands’ shores – a number which has increased by 135% since 2015 – all comes down to consumer demand. It is estimated that avocados will be the best-selling tropical fruit globally (after bananas) by 2030. And while the Netherlands is actually the largest non-producing avocado exporter in the world – many of the country’s incoming avocados are ripened here and exported to other European nations – it still has one of the highest consumption rates on the continent.
The avocado’s route to Europe, however, is a long one. And not all end up where they’re supposed to: with the consumer. While some European countries – such as Spain – have started growing avocados, the majority are shipped in from all over the world. The Netherlands imports from Kenya, South Africa, Peru, Mexico, Chile, Israel, just to name a few, and while the fruit is graded, sorted and accepted or rejected at origin (to avoid unnecessary travel and waste), for many, the journey itself has an impact on the quality.
Those that arrive after being shipped are sorted in Rotterdam into ones suitable and not suitable for human consumption. The latter could be bruised or battered from the trip, underripe or overripe, or have a small defect. We like to call them the ‘uglys’. They, unfortunately, form part of a mountain of waste: one that grows by over one million avocados a day.
AVO WASTE: A LOCAL ISSUE
So: how many avocados shipped to the EU are wasted? The answer to this will always be ‘too many’. But in reality, this figure looks more like a 1/5th. Only 80% of all imported avocados make it to the kitchen table – 20% of them are graded as ‘category two’ or ‘industrial’, and aren’t sent to supermarkets or retailers.
Out of this 20%, an estimated 1-2% (‘category two’ avos) can be converted into guacamole, forming part of the RE-USE category in the food hierarchy above, while a further 18% (‘industrial’ avos) are most likely burnt as biofuel, which can be seen in the RECOVER segment of the hierarchy.
What Soilmates are doing, is using as much of this 20% as possible; upcycling ‘category two’ and ‘industrial’ uglys by pressing them into Healthy Oil – pure avocado oil.
Re-introducing them into the food hierarchy (RE-USE), so that they’re not shipped halfway around the world only to be burnt for biodiesel.
360,000 kilograms of ugly avocados were rescued in 2021: Soilmates have our sights set on 3,000,000 in 2022. As long as there’s avocado food loss, there’ll be Healthy Oil. (Ideally, in the future, there won’t be enough ugly avocados to press into oil!)
SO WHAT’S BEING DONE ABOUT THIS AVO WASTE ISSUE?
Honestly? A lot. But also not enough. Major importers are becoming more and more aware of their role in contributing towards avocado waste. They’re trying to prevent it at the source. When they can’t, they seek out solutions like the one Soilmates offer – giving these avos a new life, upcycling them so that they’re fit for human consumption.
Soilmates have exclusive and long-standing partnerships with the country’s major importers, with more hopping on board all the time. Ensuring that avocados aren’t discarded unnecessarily is a priority for all of us. Because of this demand, and with our impact on the environment in mind, Soilmates are moving production a little closer to home – right here in Rotterdam, an avocado pip’s throw away from importers. Allowing us to cut down on that carbon footprint (woohoo!) and double the amount of Healthy Oil bottles produced year-on-year. Win win.
WE ARE ALL SOILMATES
If you’re still reading, it’s safe to assume you care about the planet. About healthy eating. About fighting food waste. So hey there, Soilmate. You’re one of us! In every bottle of Healthy Oil there are 30 avocados that have been rescued, upcycled, given a new life. And because we purchase our uglys from importers, farmers still get paid for growing rejected fruit – as opposed to fronting the cost for their disposal. As our community of Soilmates grows, we’re able to make a bigger and better impact at every level of the food chain.
We love that more and more of you are becoming conscious about what you consume and who you buy from. Taking the time to read labels, do your homework. Holding companies, brands and communities (like us!) accountable. Pushing for transparency. Go, you! Let’s break down those industry walls together, one brick at a time. You, me – we are all Soilmates.
Are you one of us? ‘Course you are. Join the Soilmates community, and sign up for our monthly newsletter. Got a question about food waste? The industry? Healthy Oil? Get in touch.