Food Waste Mitigation



Show Summary

In this episode, our host Suzana Tripologos has a fascinating conversation with Dr. Steven Lapidge & Dr. Simon Lockrey.

Dr. Lockrey discusses his research around mitigating food waste in the life cycle of food production, and how technology plays a role in different phases of this process.

Dr. Lapidge shares his experience spearheading a national approach to food waste mitigation and his efforts to increase government, consumer, and industry involvement.

About the guest speakers

Dr. Lapidge is the inaugural CEO of the Fight Food Waste Cooperative Research Centre and Stop Food Waste Australia. He has spent most of his 20-year career working for or with agricultural and environmental Cooperative Research Centers, with a strong focus on new product development, commercialization, extension and adoption.

Dr. Lockrey is a leading sustainability and design innovation researcher, having been based at RMIT University since 2009. The domains in which Dr Lockrey has managed research include life cycle assessment, also known as LCA, co-design, design innovation, green marketing, resource efficiency, sustainability strategy, tool development, and food waste. As a result, he has generated millions of dollars of ‘industry-facing’ research, creating global impact through policy change, commercial innovation outcomes, media coverage, and quality academic publications.

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Transcript

Suzana Tripologos:

Welcome to the CPG Innovation Podcast, where industry thought leaders connect technology to the latest market trends in fast-moving consumer goods. I'm your host, Suzana Tripologos.

Suzana Tripologos:

In this episode, I have a fascinating conversation with Dr. Steven Lapidge and Dr. Simon Lockrey. Dr. Lapidge is the inaugural CEO of the Fight Food Waste Cooperative Research Centre and Stop Food Waste Australia. He has spent most of his 20 year career working for, or with, agricultural and environmental cooperative research centers with a strong focus on new product development, commercialization, extension and adoption. Dr. Lapidge shares his experience, spearheading a national approach to food waste mitigation, and his efforts to increase government, consumer and industry involvement.

Suzana Tripologos:

Dr. Lockrey is a leading sustainability and design innovation researcher. Having been based at RMIT university since 2009, the domains in which Dr. Lockrey has managed research include life cycle assessment, also known as LCA, co-design, design innovation, green marketing, resource efficiency, sustainability strategy, tool development, and food waste. Dr. Lockrey discusses his research around mitigating food waste and the life cycle of food production and how technology plays a role in different phases of this process.

Suzana Tripologos:

My guests today have so much knowledge and insight to share with us. So let's jump right in.

Suzana Tripologos:

Welcome Simon and Steven, I'm thrilled to be speaking with you today.

Suzana Tripologos:

And let's start with Simon. To get us started on this topic today, can you tell me what food waste and food loss are and how is it measured?

Dr. Simon Lockrey:

Yeah, absolutely, Suzana. So food loss and waste is basically a description of the whole of value chain food loss and waste that we have across the different stages and we generally segment food loss up to retail. So basically the upstream waste that happens on the farm in processing, in the production phases of food. And then the downstream waste, food waste, is what occurs when we retail in the consumer's home or in food service. So there's two quite distinct segments of the value chain, where we are producing and then consuming food.

Suzana Tripologos:

So it's really coming from consumers, it's coming from suppliers, it's coming from companies, it's coming from all different areas.

Dr. Simon Lockrey:

Yeah, correct. And loss and waste, as we sort of segment them and characterize them, can occur for all sorts of different reasons. They can be issues to do with inefficiencies, or they can be to do with behaviors, both in the supply chain and then the consumer or a food service situation; so, human behaviors. It can be from environmental reasons, so the context in which the food supply chain is in, things like cold chain. So poor cold chain management or cold chain conditions and the like. So there's all sorts of different reasons why this loss and waste occurs and something we examine quite deeply in our research.

Suzana Tripologos:

I'm curious though for my own sake too, who are the largest contributors of food waste? Have you measured that? Do you know who's really responsible for most of it?

Dr. Simon Lockrey:

Yeah. So what we find globally in the various studies that have occurred, there generally is a larger proportion of food waste occurring in the home and with consumers in developed supply chains. So we're very good at getting the food to consumers to eat, but maybe our lifestyles situations, and also things like affluence can actually affect the approach that consumers have to food so that we actually have a spike in the home or in food service, et cetera. The way food is presented in restaurants or the concept of abundance having to produce enough to demonstrate that there's enough, et cetera.

Dr. Simon Lockrey:

Whereas in developing supply chains, we actually are worse at getting it to consumers. So we actually waste more, or it's actually food loss at that stage at the upstream where we actually have poor cold chain or maybe we have different types of techniques on the farm, which are just considered normal where we're actually wasting it prior to it getting to market. So depending on the context of the supply chain, that really determines where food loss or food waste occurs at a higher proportion.

Suzana Tripologos:

That's interesting. So Steve, based on your experience, can you share a little bit about Fight Food Waste and what have you learned by creating a national approach to food waste?

Dr. Steven Lapidge:

Yeah, sure. So we've been on this journey for about eight years or so now, in terms of trying to create a national organization, getting the funding. This particular organization, Fight Food Waste Limited, has been ongoing for three years now and so we're still in our infancy as well. We often say that we're 10 years behind Europe and some of the leading countries like the UK and the Netherlands in terms of trying to address food waste at a national level, but we're also trying to catch up pretty quickly.

Dr. Steven Lapidge:

So a couple of the key indicators in terms of how well a country is doing in terms of fighting food waste, it's around, have they got a national strategy? So have they got a commitment to generally to halve food waste by 2030, which is the sustainable development goal 12.3? And have they got a baseline to work from? Because unless you understand what's out there in terms of food waste, unless you can measure it, then you can't really manage it. And so Australia has both of those key documents in place and we're certainly charging towards halving food waste by 2030 at the national level.

Suzana Tripologos:

So how do you get companies to weigh in and transition and commit to reducing food waste? Because I would imagine that they have to make some changes and sometimes technology plays a role in that. So how have you seen companies make that transition, if you can maybe share a little bit about that?

Dr. Steven Lapidge:

Well, yeah, ultimately consumers will determine whether a company makes commitments in this area. And if you look to the leading food manufacturers of the world and some of the leading retailers, for example, they've made commitments already, and generally they're in line with the sustainable development goal, if not even more stringent. So some have committed to halve food waste by 2025, for example, instead of 2030.

Dr. Steven Lapidge:

Now, if the consumers are saying, "Yes, this is really important to us," then companies will change. But then again, they often need some support to do that, particularly ones that aren't multinationals and have a lot more resources. And so that's where things like voluntary agreements come in and that's something Australia is embarking on at the moment.

Dr. Steven Lapidge:

Probably the best non-voluntary agreement globally is the Courtauld agreement, which was in the UK. And that was done by an organization called WRAP, Waste & Resources Action Programme. That's something we're trying to emulate in Australia at the moment. And in fact, we've pulled over some of the people from WRAP to help create that. And that really is a support mechanism for businesses to address food waste in their supply chains, but also to make sure they get the recognition for the extra work they're putting in and that consumers, who are ultimately determining whether companies make commitments in this area, can hear about it and can read about the good work that a organization is doing.

Suzana Tripologos:

In the last eight years, you said about eight years, so have you seen an increase of consumers that it's being impactful now that the changes have been made? Have you seen it's going in the right direction?

Dr. Steven Lapidge:

Yeah, certainly. And right throughout Australia in the last couple of weeks, there's a big supermarket chain here, I won't mention the name, that's taken out double page ads. Page two and three of every national newspaper in Australia, of which there's 10 or so, to advertise what they've been doing around food waste and packaging and their whole sustainability credentials. Some of our other big supermarket chains, which are multinationals, have also made commitments to halve food waste just in the last few months. And so we're really starting to see movement in this field.

 

Dr. Steven Lapidge:

Food manufacturers are coming on board as well, and this is all leading into what will hopefully be a very successful voluntary agreement program with a new organization or new entity we recently created, Stop Food Waste Australia. And Stop Food Waste Australia has been created to deliver the national food waste strategy, which is to halve food waste by 2030. We're keen for all these companies to sign up with us and we'll support them to really make a big difference in Australia.

Suzana Tripologos:

I love that. I think that's so fascinating that you have such passion about it, that you're working for a really good common goal for everybody. So that's awesome to hear.

Suzana Tripologos:

So Simon, for our listeners maybe that they're not familiar with this concept, can you tell us a little bit about the triple win concept and if there's been a company that you can mention that has used technology to achieve it?

Dr. Simon Lockrey:

Yeah, absolutely, Suzana. So the triple win concept is this idea that you're addressing a economic, social and environmental outcome, so it's often also termed the triple bottom line. And in food waste, we actually find that there's often that that potential outcome or argument to act on food waste. So by those three pillars of the triple win, I mean, if you're producing food waste as a company, you're basically wasting money because you've paid for the materials, you've paid for effort to value add to the product often. So you've put in labor costs, wages, been labor costs, rent, energy, all those kinds of extra costs. So we actually find that the true cost of waste is quite a lot more than just the waste numbers on the material cost or the waste management, the truck coming to pick up the waste at the back of the factory.

Dr. Simon Lockrey:

So there's an economic argument, absolutely to act. There's a social cost, so even in developed countries, we'll take Australia as an example, at any one time, there can be up to a million people in food poverty, particularly when you've got these extreme situations where you've got pandemics where people are losing their work and they're not necessarily earning the money that they used to. And to put that in perspective, Australia's got about 25, 26 million people. So we're not talking about a small percentage of the population who are actually in that situation. So if you can redistribute the food that's being wasted or lost across the supply chain to people who can't afford it, there's a social win to acting on food waste too.

 

Dr. Simon Lockrey:

And then also there's an environmental argument. So food wasted is wasted environmental load, all of the environmental inputs that you put into making the food are lost plus there are other emission based issues. So if you look at food waste in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, if it wasn't a nation, it would be the third largest emitter of carbon after the US and China. So we're actually talking about a large argument to act solely on environmental grounds too. So the triple win is addressing those three big pillars.

Dr. Simon Lockrey:

In terms of a company, I mean, just three weeks ago, I was up on the Gold Coast in Australia and I was walking through a bakery, one of our biggest bakers, Goodman Fielder, who have actually reduced the waste through their factory through implementation of new processes as well as new equipment in the factory to the point where it's over 90% decrease in waste on the line in the factory. Plus they've addressed the redistribution of any waste that's going on to social outcomes as well as animal feed as well. So it means that they're feeding the animals that then move into a social outcome where we're feeding people through that animal food system.

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Dr. Simon Lockrey:

And also, they're saving money. So they're not wasting that food, so the effort that's going into making that bread through the bakery is actually paying off rather than having as much waste as they had say, five years ago. So and that went through a concerted effort of planning, implementation of new kit, new processes, new destination, partnerships for anything that wasn't going to necessarily go to a good outcome. So Goodman Fielder in Australia is a good example of a company that's really looked at this issue in great detail and achieved triple wins through that bakery up on the Gold Coast.

Suzana Tripologos:

That's great. So, Steven, maybe I can direct this question towards you since you had mentioned the UK and I guess every country is handling food waste a little bit differently. Where do you see countries can do their own type of analysis or technology to measure this? Are you seeing that different countries are applying different methods or is it really standard across the board? I know your focus really is in Australia, but I'm sure you have a global perspective on things. So is there certain regions or countries that you think that maybe we should focus on, or areas of food waste that we should be more concerned with?

Dr. Steven Lapidge:

So in terms of what's happening internationally, a number of years ago, a group called World Resources Institute, which is based in Washington, DC, came up with the global accounting standard for food loss and waste. So that's what we all tend to use as a bit of a standard because everyone was measuring waste in their own way. It's not completely unified and certainly countries are defining food loss and waste slightly differently, and that's because everyone's got different production systems.

Dr. Steven Lapidge:

So a good example in Australia is that we're a big sugar cane producer. Now, sugar cane produces a lot of waste in terms of its bagasse, it's inedible. And if we included that bagasse in our national food waste baseline, it would add another couple of million tons of food waste, even though you can't actually eat it. So that's where if we use this strict definition, our food waste levels be 30% higher than what they actually are. And so that's where each country needs to refine to some extent, the accounting protocol, but we do want to be comparing apples with apples still.

Dr. Steven Lapidge:

So in terms of areas that we need to be concentrating on, look, I think one that often, so Simon's already mentioned household food waste, and generally in most of the world, developed world, I should say, that is the highest levels and often accounts for 40 to 50% of a country's food waste. The one that often goes a bit unnoticed is primary production food loss. And that's because we don't have good figures on how much loss is occurring in a lot of production systems. It's often seen as a cost of doing business and so businesses just don't often measure it. And when we try and do surveys to try and get those figures, they'll say, "Well, we know it's significant, but we just don't know what it is." And if you don't know what it is, coming back to my comment before, then you're unlikely to manage it or see it as a imposition.

Dr. Steven Lapidge:

So primary production, certainly for a country like Australia, which we have population of 25 million, we actually produce enough food in this country to feed 75 million people. And so we're a big primary producer and we need to be getting a better handle on that. Probably America is very similar as well, and even places like the UK, they've got excellent data in food manufacturing and household food waste and retail. But again, that's the primary production levels that's a bit more unknown. They've been focusing on that more in recent years. But I think generally globally, we need to understand that production losses more.

Suzana Tripologos:

So I presume you could use the data resources or technology to measure that, the impact. Do either of you have a comment on the technology and maybe like the predictive analysis of how you see things can change by measuring it today and predicting the future of the impact of making it successful?

Dr. Steven Lapidge:

Yeah, if I can start off and then I'll hand over to Simon. I guess people aware of the accounting and reporting protocol or the food loss and waste index out at the United Nations and FAO, the tools to actually utilize those protocols to generate a true cost of waste is what's often been missing in the past. So it's the envelope sometimes in terms of doing these calculations.

Dr. Steven Lapidge:

Where we're heading is a product called DIRECT that has been developed by Selerant and Empauer locally in Australia, that really assesses the true cost of food waste. So that's one tool that we're promoting through all of our CRC, or Cooperative Research Centre projects. So they can get a good handle or a good baseline on what the true cost of waste in a particular production system and then we can work at mitigation strategies to address that and then again measure what the true impact has been. Because we're a very impactful focused organization, but we don't want to overestimate our impact. We want a true reflection of what the impact is.

Dr. Steven Lapidge:

But look, Simon, I'll pass that over to you. You've obviously been more involved in DIRECT and you can probably let the listeners know a bit more about that.

Dr. Simon Lockrey:

No, that's a very good summary I think, Steve. So yeah, thanks for that. I think the key thing I think in this whole issue of measurement is data. So what we find when we go into small organizations, large organizations, and certainly in the home, is that there's a lack of data and there's a disparate nature of data measurement, if any at all. So some are doing some sample measurement manually. Some actually have very sophisticated digital systems that pull a lot of data in, but they're not necessarily cutting it in a way that shows the mass and the cost flows that relate to waste and loss.

Dr. Simon Lockrey:

And that's really what we're trying to do with DIRECT, the tool that we're developing through the CRC, where we're trying to firstly align to the food loss and waste standard. So the protocols that have been designed globally to give companies and governments some certainty about repeatability and consistency in how we collect the data and then analyze the data. And also develop a tool that where we can actually cater for different types of data. So whether it's coming off a SAP system where a whole lot of inventory management financial data is coming into a company that is actually collecting that data or at a more manual level where a company might be collecting it and have to input it manually, but they still have a system that once they do that, there's some consistency between what they're measuring and what maybe another company that's pulling in a whole lot of digital data is measuring.

Dr. Simon Lockrey:

And put simply, it's really just trying to measure the masses that go in to a stage of the food system and the masses that come out. The products that we make and the different destination that might be traditional waste destinations like landfill, or they might be more higher value destinations like food rescue for people who can't afford food or animal feed. So we're still putting the food loss or waste into the food system.

Dr. Simon Lockrey:

And I suppose also, it's just that aha moment of the true cost of waste, where we are actually showing companies, not just the material loss cost and the waste management bill they get from Veolia or whoever is picking up their waste, but it's the wages and the energy costs and the rent, all of the facility sort of costs that they are actually also putting into managing something that doesn't go into the final food product. Once you show that to companies, they realize, "Ah, this is actually a much bigger financial issue and a much bigger waste issue that we thought."

Dr. Simon Lockrey:

And it can then, if they benchmark that, put in some future scenarios that show if they spend a bit of money doing something upfront, what's the bang for buck on the change? What's the reduction in the environmental problem based on that change? So it's really that benchmark scenario and strategy piece that a tool like this will probably provide those who use it. So, yeah, that's what we're hoping is the future is that we're actually going to measure a lot better, both of what our benchmark is and what the potential actions are to get to a much better place.

Suzana Tripologos:

We're coming to the close here and so I just want to get your final thoughts because you have a great goal in 2030, and I hope we can reconnect at that point and your goals will be met. Do you think you'll achieve everything that you wanted? That you'll get to the 50% in the next eight and a half years?

Dr. Steven Lapidge:

Yeah, look, we've been doing quite a bit of modeling around whether we can achieve this or not. So our initial organization, the Cooperative Research Centre, had a target of reducing food waste by 30 million tons actually by 2035, but we finished in 2028. And on the projects that we've got in place and the projects we're looking to get in place over the coming years, and yes, I think we can achieve that target. And that's about a 25% reduction overall.

Dr. Steven Lapidge:

To achieve the 50%, and that's a commitment we've recently taken on with Stop Food Waste Australia, it will require a massive effort and it will require a good commitment to a voluntary agreement program from industry. It will require a national behavior change campaign that we've already touched on. So we don't quite have all the ingredients in place yet, all the tools in place. I think if we do get all those tools in place then yes, we can make it.

Dr. Steven Lapidge:

How many countries around the world will achieve that target? That is unknown. Certainly the Netherlands and the UK are probably the two leading countries at the moment. But look, I think with their guidance as well, and we look to them whenever possible, then I think we can make it. But it's only if the accelerator stays flat to the floor, if you like, and we don't become complacent, if and when we start doing well, because that is what often happens in other countries. They'll have a great peak in terms of reducing food loss and waste, and then that'll start going down again and waste will increase because people become complacent and we've just got to avoid that trap that other countries have seen.

Suzana Tripologos:

So what are you most excited about moving forward with this plan?

Dr. Steven Lapidge:

Oh, for me really is trying to get all the tools in place, but I think the national behavior change campaign is what I think about at night and that's something that's really important as a country to try and unite our efforts. And in countries where they don't have separate states and territories and things like that, I'm sure it's probably an easier path, but in the other way, that can also be a huge advantage because it means potentially we've got additional resources to achieve the target.

Dr. Steven Lapidge:

And so what develops in the coming years in that space, I think will be really exciting. And yeah, look, I really hope that we can achieve it here. I hope that America can also achieve that target because they've got the same commitment, of course. And I think it's going to be a really exciting next nine years in terms of all countries trying to achieve that 50% food waste reduction target.

Suzana Tripologos:

That's great. And you Simon, what are you most excited about going forward?

Dr. Simon Lockrey:

Well, yeah, obviously that quite lofty goal pulls us along, helps us kick the can along the road, so to speak, in terms of our efforts. But I mean, my excitement with all of this is just... I mean, I've always been very much an industry embedded practitioner or academic, depending on where I'm playing at the time and this really gives me the opportunity to apply the design angle and skills and mindset on a big problem, a big world problem, and hopefully achieve some really innovative outcomes.

Dr. Simon Lockrey:

Innovation gets thrown around as a buzzword all the time, but there are real opportunities in this space to innovate properly. Create new things, novel things, that haven't been done before in one of our major systems, which is the global food system. So for me, that's exciting, right? I get to play in that space with the opportunity to create things that are new, that could address a massive issue for the globe, particularly in the context of growing pressures around things like climate change, peak resources, water shortages, population growth. All these things create more, I suppose, tension and make the food waste issue more acute.

Dr. Simon Lockrey:

So if we can address food waste as these things are coming online, we may actually pull the burden back a bit from those other issues that are occurring too. So there's a real need for this and it's exciting to be a part of this and working with industry government academia altogether on a problem like this is also I think quite an exciting proposition.

Suzana Tripologos:

It's great. And I just really commend the both of you for all your efforts because as I stated earlier, you're both really passionate about this. And I love seeing that in people, especially the two of you working very hard and diligently to get that goal for the common good for all of us.

Suzana Tripologos:

And I want to thank you for joining us today. I really appreciated the talk and the insight that you provided, and we will touch base to see how things are going in the future.

Dr. Steven Lapidge:

Great, thanks Suzana.

Dr. Simon Lockrey:

No problem. Thanks, Suzana.

Suzana Tripologos:

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The CPG Innovation Podcast is presented by Selerant.