EPA Reports 9.8 Million Tons Per Year in Furniture Waste
Very limited research occurs on societies least-recycled item in a household.
In 2009, U.S. EPA reported that furniture accounted for 9.8 million tons (4.1 percent) of household waste. Furniture is the number one least-recycled item in a household, and it was only up until 2008 that there was a recovery (materials used for recycling) greater than 0.05 percent since the 1960s – 0.1 percent. And by 2015, it is estimated that we will spend $121.7 billion to refurbish our homes with new furniture. As we are increasingly persuaded by TV shows to remodel our homes and to replace old furniture, we are also adding more to the landfill in record numbers.
Hello, fellow furniture bank community members!
Many of you have already met Annalee Sawiak, CEO of Furniture Link Inc. and have a sense on what the goals of Furniture Link are, but as its first community client, I wanted to share our own experience with Furniture Link Inc. to help you visualize how they may be able to support your own organization.
ABOUT FURNITURE BANK TORONTO
We’ve been in operation for over 20 years and have worked our way to supporting nearly 5,000 families each year. As large an impact that this is, we operate in a housing crisis that needs furniture support services for over 25,000 families! That’s a lot of furniture to collect, select, and deliver. We’ve learned that we can’t do it all on our own, we are committed to innovating, partnering, and collaborating our way to solving this challenge for Toronto, and where we can help all of our fellow community members help them as well. Historically we had assumed we would solve all these problems growing our trucking activities to collect from donors and handle the deliveries for our client families.
We have grown to become a small trucking organization in Toronto with 60% of our 50 staff linked to the trucking social enterprise activity. We’ve deployed lots of technology to coordinate them, and built a brand and marketing presence to attract donors. From 1 truck in 2004, we finished 2018 with 11 trucks. Unlike other years though, it became clear we’d reached a point that the charity was at risk if we continued as we’ve always done. After Furniture Bank Toronto moved from our top line strategic plan to an execution plan in 2018 we saw the need for a business corporation to be formed that was focused on sourcing, negotiating and documenting commercial relationships to provide the not for profit universe with good quality items for redistribution by creating a self-sustaining revenue flow.
With Annalee’s commercial and contracting experience, she has assumed this mission (You can read how Annalee came to form Furniture Link in the About Us page), but the important things for my organizations and other furniture banks working with her company are to understand:
- Furniture Link Inc is a social enterprise. It is not a charity and does not carry out the operations of distributing furniture and other household goods based on need.
- The flow of goods arranged through Furniture Link is intended to be offered free of charge to the charities (like us) that join the furniture bank community network.
- Membership for furniture banks is free of charge to the free good program.
- Furniture Link Inc. will act as a facilitator with corporations with furniture and household goods and connect with interested community members when opportunities present themselves.
- Community members interested in the free goods would have no obligation to accept goods or services from Furniture Link Inc or any associated partner.
- Furniture Link Inc.’s objective is to facilitate the growth of the not for profit community that redistribute these household goods and furniture with the sharing of member news, case studies, statistics, templates and strategies at no cost.
FURNITURE LINK IS HELPING ON THESE PILOTS
In the last 4 months Furniture Link has supported Furniture Bank Toronto in a series of pilots and trials that are supporting:
- MORE DONATIONS – Expanding product donations through retailers without any cost to our organization.
- MORE TRANSPORT OPTIONS – Piloting a series of new transportation pilots for collection and delivery that could provide a solution that will permit all the trucking capacity we need, without the costs and provide the flow of funds and furniture we need to continue the work in the community.
- NEW FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES – Collaborating with the local government and their solid waste department to see how a successful furniture collection and redistribution model supports their waste strategies.
- SUPPORTING NEW FURNITURE BANKS – Furniture Link is supporting us with the establishment of a new furniture bank in a community an hour away from Toronto.
So not all of these things have worked perfectly or instantly, but I can say having a corporation advocating on our side, we’ve seen a big improvement in prospects for 2019. Furniture Link looks to support furniture banks coast to coast to coast so if you haven’t spoken to Annalee I will be happy to make an introduction or join a call just email me at email@example.com and I will connect you to Annalee and team.
36 FB Community Members now – wow!
Welcome to our newest members and those of you who gathered to share your experience in Ohio. It would be great to have the ability to travel and attend gatherings over the upcoming year. No amount of social media contact replaces the experience of sitting with people and being able to communicate directly. Very ‘old school’ of me, I know.
At times over the past year, it has felt like things are moving almost too fast to believe. At times, the speed at which we were able to set up meetings and make connections left me breathless and scrambling to catch up. Other times. I have had to force myself to be patient and allow events to unfold organically, according to a timeline much slower than I had planned. The last few weeks have seen both speeds playing out.
Months of conversations and interviews have resulted in Furniture Link being invited by Ernst & Young to participate in their Ripples program for companies that are expected to have significant social impact in the future. This is an international program and we are among the first to be nominated in Canada. The program can provide access to professional advice, research and profile that a self funded organization like Furniture Link could not expect to buy on its own. I am excited to meet the advisers and other companies in the space.
I have also been in discussions with some of the major corporate players in the Circular Waste universe to acknowledge furniture as a separate stream of solid waste. Society is moving reusable quality furniture from homes and warehouses and in to the solid waste system instead of the many households who so desperately need it. This is old news to everyone in this network but to many of the individuals and organizations driving policies and funding in this sector it is largely overlooked. I am cautiously optimistic that participation on a panel at the International Conference on Circular Waste will lead to more awareness and eventually funding for organizations like ours that play a key role in diversion with purpose.
A recent article in Fast Company identifies the Circular Economy as a major future source of skilled manual employment in North America as the sorting and repurposing of goods does lend itself to the international outsourcing that is threatening so many of these types of jobs. I have been in dialogue with a number of organizations to see if we can weave the training skilled trades in furniture repair, refinishing and reupholstery can be integrated in to the furniture bank model here in Toronto. There is a shortage of people with these skills and many people currently working in the field are at retirement age. It may end up being a stepping stone to full time sustainable income.
We are speaking to members of two communities who are interested in establishing furniture banks and evaluating the best way to support them in their independent journey. I would love to hear from those of you who have had the lived experience of starting up a furniture bank. What do you wish you had had as tools to simplify the process? What advice would you give to these brave souls?
As always, we look forward to hearing from our members and to hear what strategies are working for all of you.
CEO, Founder of Furniture Link Inc.
We’ve had a few questions from members about how to follow discussions online, without having to login in regularly. The following post will walk you through how to do that. As internet SPAM laws require consent to receive email notices, we will need you to opt-in to each forum topic to get notifications.
Step 1: Login to the FB Community
- Go to https://www.furniturelink.co and select LOGIN
- Enter your Username and Password you created.
- If you haven’t registered complete this process.
Select the FB Community Forum from Members Menu
- There is one main forum called “The Furniture Bank Round Table”
- You can see the full members list (and details each member has added to their profile here)
- You can see all recent posts (from all sub forums too)
- You can update your profile here.
- We have 10 sub forums (Introductions to FB hacks) this is how we will group discussions
- When you have a new topic to add… click ADD TOPIC
- The recent posts are going to be listed here.
To get email notices of new discussions …
- Go into EACH FORUM you want to follow (ex. Introductions)
- Click the SUBSCRIBE FOR NEW TOPICS
Go to your email …
- The email you get from Furniture Link will include a Forum Email – CONFIRM the subscription request.
These simple steps will let you follow discussions as they occur.
If you ever want to add them again, repeat these steps.
If you decide you don’t want as many notifications, go to YOUR PROFILE and edit your subscriptions setting.
Good luck. If you have difficulties, please reach out to me directly and I can help further.
A Mid-West Gathering
Returning home to Toronto last Friday from my trip to Bowling Green, Ohio, I was excited to have had the opportunity to share and learn with a group of sister furniture banks. We gathered for what I suspect will be the first of an annual regional meeting of furniture banks in and around the midwest area. Inspired and organized by Rob Boyle of Furniture Bank of Southeastern Michigan. Big thanks also to Don Slobodien from Benbrook Associates, who sponsored the event.
Over 10,000 Families per year supported!
As we did our morning introductions, I was amazed that this small gathering of staff and volunteers represented organizations which, in our combined communities, support over 10,000 families annually:
We also had two advisors to the sector join us:
What Did We Discuss?
Huge thanks to everyone for taking the time to come together to share their experiences. Some of the themes discussed included:
- What is replacing FBANA?
- Fundraising: What’s working and what’s not?
- The joys of operating trucking & moving ‘companies’
- Client & donor scheduling: Are you in the 21st century?
- IT Systems
- Let’s talk Social Enterprise: Successes & Opportunities
With regards to the topic of “Where is FBANA?”, I want to take a moment to share the answer I provided. The idea of a coordinating association isn’t a new one. The furniture bank sector has had different versions operating for many years, each coordinated through different structures and different people. Since the last event hosted in 2014, we’ve been without a coordinating group. While a few Executive Directors from various furniture banks have tried to move the idea forward in 2016, we just couldn’t sustain the scope of the project. We each operate our own furniture banks, with limited time and even more limited resources. The old vision of FBANA was to formally set up a separate entity with its own budgets, staff, and board of directors. When we discussed this same theme in January at the West Coast Community gathering – we all agreed that we want to foster a community that works to gather, share and support the development of the furniture bank sector. For each of us, that looks different based on where we are in our life cycle.
- Some are thinking about a new furniture bank – like Amy from Milwaukee.
- Others are small volunteer-run organizations – like Tammy and Seth Myers of Compassion Furniture Bank
- Others still are adding and innovating new social enterprises – like John and Kevin of Furniture Bank of Central Ohio
In the case of my organization (Furniture Bank of Toronto), we got Board approval to move forward with allocating a portion of staff time and limited travel, to foster this ‘communicate & cooperate’ network. Both groups in January and April highlighted that, at this stage, COMMUNICATING and COOPERATING, are of most importance to most of us.
Using a framework called the Collaboration Continuum, with the support of Furniture Link Inc. and other funders this online community is going to focus on these two areas of collaboration. We’ve started in the last 90 days a small online forum here at Furniture Link. If you have not already joined the Community, please click HERE to join. It’s free and it is intended to be a permanent place for ALL furniture banks – big, small, new and old – to discuss, collect and share information on how to best to run a furniture bank in our own community.
Will there be coordination and collaboration by all North America’s furniture banks? I think the answer – the honest answer – is “maybe”. We need to work together in small ways and show value to one another before more complex coordination among us might be possible.
Thanks again to Rob, Tom, Tammy, Seth, Art, Kevin, Dana, Jill, John, Amy. Don, Matt, Amy, and Tammy P for coming together last week.
I encourage you to join or start the discussion in the online forum on the above themes.
We can all share and learn from each other’s experiences and expertise.
Re-posted from LINKEDIN
At Furniture Bank as we look for creative, efficient and effective ways to scale our environmental and social impact. We are working with Furniture Link Inc. to demonstrate how partnerships between business and charities can create sustainable models for maximum social and environmental impact. Over the life of our organization we have diverted more than 20,000 cubic meters of goods from landfill, which created savings for the city exceeding $8,000,000 and turned housing in to homes for over 100,000 men, women and children in our community.
Furniture Bank is a registered charity that provides furniture to our city’s most vulnerable members. as community shelters and social agencies are lucky enough to secure housing for their families. When you have an empty apartment and no financial support, you can spend years living off the floor, using milk crates for chairs, clothing piles for mattresses, and garbage bags for storage.
At the same time we see unwanted furniture all around us. While statistics in Toronto are limited, the trends from other countries are informative. In the U.S. the EPA reports that furniture accounted for 9.8 million tons (4.1 percent) and of all household waste and was the number one least-recycled item in a household. In the UK reports suggest Britons throw away more than 300,000 tonnes of reusable furniture every year.
Our primary goal?
To secure more furniture donations for families experiencing furniture poverty here in Toronto and divert usable furniture from landfill.
On March 11th Furniture Link Inc. helped us launch a pilot program with Second Closet to test the use of outsource resources to expand our collection of usable goods without additional investment or cost to Furniture Bank.
In these first 43 days, the pilot has diverted 736 items of home furnishings from landfill into the homes of over 50 families emerging from crisis and displacement. Stacked one atop another, these items measure a full CN Tower’s height of furniture! Based on volume, the pilot saved landfill space that has a value of over $100,000 and created homes for 50 more families from our community agencies and shelters. These same 80 donors got the added bonus of significant charitable receipts for their donations.
More Furniture + More Transportation + More Resources =
This is a complex problem. There is more than enough quality furniture, and unfortunately growing need from community agencies and their families. The challenge for Furniture Bank is accessing the furniture, transporting it, and resourcing this redistribution network.
Our vision is to partner with our existing and new stakeholders to divert good quality but unwanted furniture from landfill to households that desperately need it.
Our pilot with Second Closet, and Furniture Link is our most recent program to engage in adding a social component to the Circular Economy, with a sustainable model to deliver our maximum environmental and social impact. We are piloting “more access” and “better transport” without requiring more resources from the Charity.
Seeking More Partners for Social Impact and Waste Diversion!
As part of a network of similar charities across Canada and the US, we are working with Furniture Link to forge sustainable commercial relationships to divert more household goods from landfill to homes that need them. We are seeking relationships with removal and moving companies, retailers, manufacturers, government agencies and stakeholders In the Zero Waste movement.
Much more to share on Second Closet, Furniture Link partnerships, expanding our impact in the Toronto area and illustrating the environmental and cost savings to municipalities of a thriving furniture bank in your community.
Furniture Bank here in Toronto has been tracking data outputs for 10 years now. We all know that throwing a good couch or bed into landfill is a dramatic waste when we see it, and look to find clever ways to change behaviours. We are seeing a lot of movement and success engaging government and zero waste leaders explaining the role that organizations like us permit in the discussion of diversion and reducing carbon impact.
Last week I was fortunate to have a Calvin Lakhan from The Waste Wiki at York University visit us for a tour and to discuss his preliminary results on the top level LCA impact of a furniture bank.
Furniture Banks in general lead with the lives changed, children and families supported, and beds given. We generally do not lead with discussing how the social work we do has a knock on benefit to zero waste / landfill goals of local municipalities. Calvin was kind enough to highlight some less popular areas for more diversion – one being furniture, and connecting that diversion to local furniture banks. I have pulled the excerpt from his Linkedin report below – ‘Diversion with Purpose’
You can see it (and share it) on Linkedin here: DIVERT WITH PURPOSE
Where will our next diverted tonne come from? Diversion with a purpose
Co-Investigator: “The Waste Wiki” – Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University … See more
Provincial diversion rates have largely stalled in the past five years, and in fact, is trending downwards for the first time in more than two decades. The reason for this stagnation is heavily debated – some point to the proliferation of light weight packaging, while others suggest municipal inefficiency and lack of applicable legislation. Whatever the cause, the reality is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to divert “the marginal tonne”- where will our next diverted tonne come from? What will it cost? And what will be the environmental, economic and social benefit? What makes this issue particularly salient is that municipalities across Canada continue to set lofty diversion targets as a first step towards achieving a circular, zero waste economy.
The next tonne will not come from printed paper and packaging (Blue Box)
Furniture – A Missed Opportunity
Much like textiles, there is no prescriptive legislation for how furniture waste should be managed. In most instances, households bare the physical and financial responsibility for transporting furniture waste to landfills, and will often rely on “junk” collectors to provide this service.
While furniture waste generation is highly variable (depending on locality, season etc.), a review of Ontario waste audits suggests that furniture and white good waste makes up approximately 5% of the overall waste stream, representing approximately 125,000 tonnes of material annually.
However, unlike textiles, end of life furniture does not have a value (or at the very least, it is highly dependent on the item, and site/situation specific factors). As such, collectors have to be financially incented, with the generator (in most cases the household) paying to have items removed and sent to landfill.
Municipalities have traditionally played a limited role in managing these items, but what role can a municipality play in not only supporting keeping these items out of landfills, but maximizing social and environmental outcomes as well?
Charitable Initiatives – The Furniture Bank Case Study
Furniture Bank is a Toronto based charity and social enterprise that helps marginalized and at risk families furnish their homes. Furniture bank accepts gently used furniture and other household items, distributing them to families in need. This initiative helps divert more than 1500 tonnes of material from Toronto landfills annually, but perhaps more importantly, serves more than 5000 local clients in need on an annual basis.
In strictly economic terms, the City of Toronto benefits through avoided landfill tipping fee costs (as well as collection costs for large, bulky items), while the province benefits through the provision of a social service to marginalized communities (without incurring a direct cost).
Since 2010, furniture bank has diverted almost 10,000T of furniture/household wares from landfills, which has had an enormous environmental impact for Ontario (shown in figure 3):
Given that the vast majority of furniture waste (as noted earlier, in excess of 125,000 tonnes) is ending up in our landfills, there is an enormous opportunity not only to increase diversion rates, but achieve a truly sustainable outcome.
Leveraging organizations such as Furniture Bank (to serve as a used furniture collector) provides a rare opportunity to address all three pillars of a sustainable waste management program. We are able to increase diversion from landfills (environment), while transferring costs away from local government (economic) and simultaneously support social impact initiatives (social).
As noted earlier, research suggests that Ontarians express a strong desire to support social initiatives and charities through waste donations (used textiles, furniture etc.). In a two year study conducted by York University, households were more than twice as likely to donate their used materials to a designated charitable collector.
Diversion with a purpose
Waste management (at least in a Canadian context) has historically not been seen through the lens of social sustainability. It is largely seen as a service provided by municipalities, to help keep material out of landfills and promote circularity.
However, as we look to increase diversion rates, we have to ask ourselves two questions:
1) Where will the next diverted tonne come from? And
2) What do I want achieve by diverting more material?
As noted earlier, conventional means and mediums of diversion (i.e. Blue Box) have been exhausted – the next diverted tonne is not likely to come from newsprint or cardboard, but from organics, textiles and furniture.
In addition to finding new opportunities to divert material, what are we trying to achieve by doing so? Is it good enough just to keep material out of landfills, or should we seek to identify ways to maximize economic and social outcomes as well?
This article hopes to highlight that it is possible to “divert with a purpose” – municipalities (and the province) can play a critical role in supporting waste collectors that have a mission beyond “managing waste”, and look to improve the lives and well-being of Ontarians.
The opportunity isn’t just about the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of material not currently being diverted, but the thousands people that benefit through strategic prioritization of material streams and waste collectors.
Since my last update, I have met with some major retailers that service both Canada and the US and one iconic Canadian retailer to discuss how our network members can be part of their Zero Waste strategy and fit into their returns policy. There is a growing appreciation that the goods that we need to distribute are among the bulkiest and least compactable going to landfill and that there is a social need for these goods. I can see that we are making progress in this area but big companies mean big bureaucracy and we will need to keep engaging to move towards a trial.
At Furniture Bank in Toronto, we are working with a logistics company to manage the next day and after hours pick up requests at no cost to the charity. The trial is in its fifth week and has increased the flow of furniture by 9.7% without any incremental costs to the charity. It is difficult to measure but the staff tells us the quality of the furniture is actually generally higher than usual. This increase is before any promotion by either party. It will be interesting to see how volume is affected once the promotional campaign begins.
We are in discussions with groups in Barrie, Ontario and Winnipeg Manitoba about how we can work with them to expand or set up operations. This should be an interesting case study in working to get contents removal companies to divert their loads to furniture banks to provide a free flow of goods.
There is a lot of activity around lobbying some of the big corporate councils that are looking at Circular Economy and Zero Waste issues. We want to get them thinking about the savings that our operations generate as well as the social impact that is the central purpose of our activity.
As always, we look forward to hearing from our members and to hear what strategies are working for all of you.
CEO, Founder of Furniture Link Inc.
Was great to see major brands changing their operations to be part of the circular economy and tackle consumption and waste.
Making the furniture sector fully circular and having a positive impact on people and the planet is a tall order. Furniture Link is already collaborating and partnering with retailers to go beyond ‘just circular’ or ‘zero waste’ and work with a network of furniture banks who can reuse, recover, repair, and regift in communities of our most vulnerable families. There are many companies of scale, and all of them are approaching the circular economy, social responsibility and community engagement differently. Congrats to IKEA for leading the way to a ‘social circular economy’!
Raw materials, by far, are the largest part of that footprint, so reusing or recycling materials can have a dramatic impact.
Furniture Banks across North America are reusing these quality items and changing lives while supporting a better environment. We are seeing that by working collaboratively with retailers, can we achieve meaningful change and impact in all parts of the community, beyond the restailers primary customer group.
You can read more here: https://www.fastcompany.com/90328244/inside-ikeas-plan-to-reinvent-itself-as-a-circular-company
Took me much longer to post this amazing event, but no better time than today, when one of our discussion points (having an online bulletin board) has been launched here.
A Gathering of Furniture Banks
A little background, Bill Lemke and I have spoken at length about creating a sustainable community to support furniture banks around North America. So in January he kick-started a regional meeting of organizations that might all come together to share resources and observations. While a small group, it highlighted for me that gathering, sharing, and problem-solving together is an important role of a community. Attending the event:
- Dunetchka Otero-Serrano, Executive Director, Community Warehouse Portland, OR
- Megan Smith, Communication Director, Community Warehouse
- Anna Kurnizki, Development Director, Community Warehouse
- Joe Glode, Program Director, Community Warehouse
- Dan Kershaw, Executive Director, Toronto Furniture Bank, Canada
- Ray Piontek, Founder and Executive Director, Bay Area Furniture Bank, CA
- Bill Lemke, Executive Director, NW Furniture Bank, WA
- Jeremy Simler, Director of Development, NW Furniture Bank
- Matt Hageness, Director of Operations, NW Furniture Bank
45 days later…
While we discussed getting a virtual community moving, I was fortunate to secure the corporate support from Furniture Link Inc. (where we are now as you read this) to get the ‘virtual community going’. So here we are – the beginnings of a community that permit members to:
- Full member contact director
- Furniture Bank Round Table forum – where conversations around different topics can occur privately with other furniture bank members.
- Upload, download, share, comment and collaborate on documents and materials together
- Share research on measurement and impact
- Look at best practice examples from other communities to use in your own.
- Connect with Furniture Link when there are ‘free goods’ opportunities in your community through Furniture Link’s project.
- More to come as the community helps shape it.
So if you are a Furniture Bank in North America – please join – to get access. Its FREE for us, so no downside for us and our limited resources.
- See the Members Map – https://www.furniturelink.co/furniture-bank-network/
- Discuss at the Round Table – https://www.furniturelink.co/furniture-bank-network/community/
- The North American Member List – https://www.furniturelink.co/community/members/
- Member Resource Center – https://www.furniturelink.co/furniture-bank-network/member-resources/
Anyway much more to come, but wanted to highlight for the furniture banks out there, we’ve got a virtual community started. Where it goes from here we will see together.
Thanks, Bill, Dunetchka, Ray and your teams for a great Community Event.
PS. Any of your FB team members that would LOVE to join me in curating and improving the community website – do let me know!
Furniture Bank Toronto has found a great way to visualize how to express the impact of in-kind donations to corporate and community partners. As long as you are capturing the items you are collecting and the Zip/postal code of the donor and beneficiary family receiving an item it is not hard today to ‘map’ where the donations come from and go to.
Later this afternoon we are having a “Build-A-Thon” at a large telco in downtown Toronto. A team of 110 office executives will have 1 hour to build 55 coffee tables and bookcases. They will be collected and brought to the Toronto Furniture Bank and then passed on to families. They should all be in new homes by Friday! You’ve probably noticed donors have a very hard time visualizing the size of the problem, and we find maps help.
If you are interested in ‘how’ – let me know and I can write a member post on the steps to do it. Email me firstname.lastname@example.org and maybe we can collaborate on a joint version. If we all provided data in a consistent format we can map anywhere.
So here are 2 maps visualizing ‘2018 Coffee Table & Bookshelf’ community impact:
Where donations came from (with our pickup service)
Where these same donations we sent too
Amazing to see business move into address waste.
Furniture Link is focused on waste in home furnishings and linking them to the thousands of organizations and their beneficiary families who cannot afford these goods as they recover from a crisis.
“Waste, at its heart, is an expense”
We completely agree with the sentiment, and it applies to furniture and household goods as well!
Read the full article here https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-02-23/big-money-joins-fight-against-1-trillion-in-wasted-food
Big Money Joins Fight Against $1 Trillion in Wasted Food
Companies have raised more than $125 million in capital to improve the industry’s efficiency, but it’s proving hard to convince consumers not to throw away perfectly good food.
February 23, 2019, 8:00 AM EST
Illustration: Cathryn Virginia
There’s gold in keeping bananas yellow.
Companies fighting food waste in the U.S. attracted about $125 million in venture capital and private equity funding in the first 10 months of 2018, according to a report
from ReFED, a coalition of nonprofits, businesses and government agencies. This amount is expected to rise.
Luring funding are products like smart tags that change color when milk goes bad, a mist to prolong the shelf life of fruit and software to help grocery stores order just the right amount of produce so they throw less away.
The solutions have skeptics, but the problem is generally acknowledged as an economic and ethical calamity. Every year, 1.4 billion tons of food—a third of global production—ends up in landfills. By some estimates, this adds up to nearly $1 trillion of annual squander and the production of about 8 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gases. At the same time, nearly 800 million people go hungry every day.
“Investors are seeing that food waste is a big business opportunity,” said Michelle Masek, head of marketing at Apeel Sciences Inc.
, which formed a partnership this month with a major European supplier of avocados that will use a water-based solution the company says extends the ripeness as many as four days.
63 Million Tons
That’s how much food the U.S. wastes per year, with consumer kitchens the worst offenders
Source: A Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste by 20 Percent, ReFED, 2016
The challenge is that individuals—not restaurants, supermarkets or farms—are among the main offenders. In the U.S., about 43 percent of all the waste happens at the end of the supply chain, in home kitchens, according to a 2016 ReFED report. A study from the Natural Resources Defense Council found 68 percent of what’s trashed is still edible
People are aware of their shortcomings, according to a 2016 survey. They feel guilty, but not guilty enough to make a difference.
But not everyone is sold on the idea that the answer lies in more stuff.
“I worry about this food-tech, food-waste boom becoming a food-waste bust,” said Elizabeth Balkan, director of the NRDC’s food-waste program. If consumers want to throw away less food, what they have to do is plan better and store smarter, she said. It does “require lifestyle adjustments, but it shouldn’t be things that require a lot of costs and newfangled devices.”
The hope for serious change, and the greatest opportunity for investment, rests with grocery stores, where narrow margins and tough competition from Walmart Inc.
, Amazon.com Inc.
’s Whole Foods Market and European transplants Aldi and Lidl provide bottom-line incentive. Not only is revenue lost from tomatoes gone mushy and expired cheddar, there’s the added expense of getting rid of it.
“When they started to realize the cost of food waste, we started to see a change,” said Anne Greven, global co-head of food and agriculture innovation at the Dutch lender Rabobank.
Startups have stepped in. FoodMaven, which sells discounted surplus food and what it describes as “imperfect produce” to restaurants and commercial kitchens, announced $10 million of investment in January, from members of the Walton and Pritzker families, on top of $8.6 million from a first round of funding. Afresh Technologies, which taps machine learning to help retailers buy just enough to keep inventories in balance, followed a $1.7 million seed round in January 2018 with an undisclosed, but larger, funding round that closed in December.
Other companies include Bluapple, maker of a gas-absorbing device for refrigerators that claims to add a few more days to berries and greens, and Ovie, which says its Smarterware combines Tupperware and sensors to let you know how much time that leftover fruit salad or beef stir-fry has left. Companies like Copia and Goodr are making food donations easier.
Older companies, too, see the benefit of new products to address the problem. Newell Brand Inc.
’s Rubbermaid advertises the containers in its Fresh Works line as capable of prolonging the life of items like strawberries and leafy greens.
Walmart “looks at food waste in a more holistic way,” said Stephanie Feldstein, population and sustainability director for the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity. For example, the biggest U.S. retailer cut strawberry delivery time from farm to store by 50 percent, adding two to three days to the berries’ usable lives.
Through its Customer Value Program, Walmart reduces the price on items that will expire soon to increase the likelihood they’ll be purchased and created a standardized date label to lower the chances anything goes bad at home. Walmart donates to local food banks what doesn’t get sold.
“Waste, at its heart, is an expense,” said Laura Phillips, Walmart’s senior vice president for global sustainability.