The Value of Loss

Various ways of food depreciation and its (negative) value

Floris
Januari 29th 2021

Where does our food come from and how is it made? It is a mystery to many. 

Yet, legal requirements with regards to food provenance make it is easy to figure out. It is a different story for the destination of food loss. Food that goes to waste in the process of food production stays unknown to almost everyone. One thing is for sure: food lost during the production process can be depreciated in various ways, leading to significantly different CO2 emissions depending on the destination. The lower on this “depreciation ladder” the more CO2 (equivalent) is emitted.

In this post I share some of the insights from 1 year of looking into the different destinations of overproduction and side streams of food products AND their negative value on climate via Green House Gas emissions. Future Kitchens uses this information for the impact assessments: how much CO2 (equivalent) emissions have we saved by our efforts of turning food loss into premium instant products. The objective of this post is to make the different destinations of food loss transparant alongside their respective negative impact on climate.

The goal of Future Kitchens is to maximise climate impact by reclaiming produce (fruit & vegetables) that is responsible for the highest emissions. 

In the beginning I had trouble to comprehend the different ways produce can be depreciated from `being food for humans` to `being bad for the climate`. Public information on what food producers and processors do with the overproduction and side streams is very scarce, but from interviews and experience I can summarise how the general depreciation ladder of food looks like in a basic table:

The Depreciation Ladder

#

Destination

CO2(e) impact

Causes GHG by

1

Human food

-

-

2

Animal food

★★

Partly rotting process

3

Fermentation

★★

CO2(e) produced by bacteria

4

Composting

★★★

CO2(e) emitted in the process

5

Incineration

★★★★

Burning process (CO2)

6

Landfill

★★★★★

Rotting process (methane)

The lower on the depreciation ladder, the higher the negative climate impact. Besides the pity of food going to waste, from a GHG perspective one can conclude that food definitely should not end up as landfill. The negative impact is primarily caused by the methane emitted in the rotting process, which is a factor 25 more potent GHG than CO2. 

Translating this to a household example: suppose a household produces 10 KGs of food loss in one week which is destined to go to a landfill. In the rotting process that follows, this would lead to approximately 16 KG CO2(e), which equals the CO2 emissions of a 3+ hour hot shower.

So what does this mean
For Future Kitchens, finding and processing produce that will be depreciated leads to three key questions:

  1. Where (geographically) can we find the – soon to depreciated – produce?
  2. How do we find sources that offer good quality?
  3. How can we be certain that the produce we process would otherwise have had a destination that caused significant GHG emissions?

The answer to the first question is easy: with an average of 30% of the world food production that goes to waste, all over the world you can find produce that otherwise would have been depreciated. The Netherlands has very high standards when it comes to valorisation of food (the opposite of depreciation). As a consequence, overproduction and side streams will very often end up in category 1 or 2 of the depreciation ladder. The volumes that go to category 5 – food that goes to landfill – are highest in several African, South American and Asian countries. More on this topic in another blog. 

To find good quality produce it is best to look in three directions: where is a mismatch between supply and demand, where can we find cutting loss (snijverlies) or where can we find sorting loss? The trick for FK is to build up a backend platform that connects the different streams and sources so we can use those as ingredients.

The answer to the third question is partly philosophical: we can never know for sure what would happen to the loss and side streams if we hadn’t stepped in. The most used depreciation-metric I have seen thus far is the monetary value: when food has lost its monetary value it can be classified as loss. For example: when a KG onions – which is usually €1 now is sold for €0.1 per KG, it is likely there is a big surplus on the market. A surplus of which a significant part will likely be depreciated. 

One could say that both the monetary value aswel as the ecological value of loss tends to be negative to profit and even more negative to the planet.