Adele Peters, Fast Company.
Data and solutions for food waste.
The U.S. generated 80.6 million tons of surplus food in 2019. The figure represents 35% of all the food available. In a world where the food industry is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, and where people are still going hungry, this waste is both an economic and environmental problem.
ReFED is a national nonprofit dedicated to ending food loss and waste across the U.S. food system by advancing data-driven solutions. We worked with them to develop the ReFED Insights Engine — a tool that provides information, insights, and solutions to anyone interested in food waste reduction. Our role was to build the front-end analysis tool and develop a back-end data storage system capable of handling more than 3 million facts. The result is a tool that food businesses, investors, innovators, nonprofits, policymakers, and more can use to solve food waste problems.
An annual USD14 billion investment in food waste solutions over the next 10 years could reduce food waste by 45 million tons each year and result in a $73 billion annual net financial benefit.
The most interesting dataset in the ReFED Insights Engine is the Food Waste Monitor. It consolidates 50 different public and proprietary datasets containing quantitative data such as tons of food surplus, tons of food waste, and monetary values in U.S. dollars. All this data can quickly and easily be viewed and aggregated by sector, food type, cause and destination, and filtered by sector, state and year, providing a comprehensive overview of the food waste challenge.
A frontend that is as easy-to-use as the ReFED Insights Engine requires extra care in the backend. The key to success is a good definition of the filters and aggregates that the system needs to offer. Once those were defined for the Food Waste Monitor, we optimised the database for specific types of queries using a data analysis solution that reduces the original facts table from more than 3 million rows to less than 40 thousand. As a result, a search query can return data in around 150 milliseconds.
Surplus food: all food that goes unsold or unused by a business or that goes uneaten at home – including food and inedible parts (e.g., peels, pits, bones) that are donated, fed to animals, repurposed to produce other products, composted, or anaerobically digested.
Food waste: uneaten food and inedible parts that end up being landfilled, incinerated, disposed of down the sewer, dumped, or spread onto land.
Recycled Food: Food that is not consumed by people but sent to be used for either industrial
uses, animal feed, anaerobic digestion, or compost.
What are people saying about it?
Jennifer Marston, The Spoon.
Tara Duggan, San Francisco Chronicle.