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Food waste is a global issue. Here’s how 2 Singapore startups are working to fight it

October 17, 2019

Moving on to the second part of our #WorldFoodDay coverage – this time, on the big problem of food wastage. The UN has been working hard to pilot programs to improve understanding of reducing food loss and waste as pledged in its Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12.3. We talk to two startups about how they are tackling the issue.

One-third of food produced for human consumption yearly – approximately 1.3 billion tons – is lost, or wasted,which the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) estimates costs the global community $1 trillion. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines food waste as “the discarding or alternative (non-food) use of food that is safe and nutritious for human consumption.”

It’s also bad for the environment. When we waste food, we also waste all the energy and water it takes to grow, harvest, transport, and package it. And if food goes to landfill and rots, it produces methane – a greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon dioxide. About 11% of all the greenhouse gas emissions that come from the food system could be reduced if we stop wasting food. In the US alone, the production of lost or wasted food generates the equivalent of 37 million cars’ worth of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Defining ‘food waste’:

“The discarding or alternative (non-food) use of food that is safe and nutritious for human consumption.”

Source: UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Here are some ways the world’s tackling this issue. Over in the US, the state of Maine has introduced a law for schools to be able to give their food scraps to pig farmers, clearing confusion over the rules around the practice of feeding pigs food waste, according to TIME.

Meanwhile, French supermarket chains Carrefour and Franprix have politicians up in arms. As France celebrated its national anti-food waste day, Paris city councilor Arash Derambarsh staged raids on supermarket trash cans, uncovering food within their use-by dates, according to france24. Derambarsh told AFP he intended to file lawsuits against the chains for not honoring a 2016 law that prohibits throwing away edible food.

Snapshot: What is the world doing to cut down on food waste?

  • US state of Maine passed bill on Sep 19 on feeding pigs food waste
  • Paris lawmaker is suing supermarket chains Carrefour and Franprix for dumping food within use-by dates
  • Japan’s Food Loss Act took effect on October 1 to slash household food waste

Over in the APAC region, Japan’s Food Loss Act took effect on October 1, as part of its government’s plans to taking measures to slash household food waste. It’s Tokyo’s way of saying, “we’re with you, UN.” The UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) calls on all nations to halve food waste and reduce food loss by 2030. According to the Nikkei, F&B companies like Nichirei Foods and Calbee are tackling food waste at the production level, using AI and other tech to reduce the amount of food that never reaches consumers.

How Singapore’s TRIA and Flavorgator are creating innovative food waste solutions

Over in sunny Singapore, the land-scarce nation is working to send 30% less waste to its offshore landfills to help it last longer than the projected 2035. Startups like Sustainable food packaging startup TRIA have joined the cause. It has been making waves for its latest solution, Bio24, which reduces food packaging and waste into compost in 24 hours.

Elsewhere on the island, food rating app Flavorgator tackles the issue of food waste by nailing down what dishes are disliked on menus. French global food services giant Sodexo is funding its pilot on the Yale-National University of Singapore (Yale-NUS) College campus. It aims to allow dining providers to “understand [their] consumers’ preferences while giving [them] actionable insights” through “real-time feedback” on menus. Its founder Henry Dominguez-Letelier gives AFN his insights on how he could scale his product globally.

Joe Gan: Tell us about how your startup is aligned with the goals of World Food Day?

TRIA’s Ng Pei Kang: There is currently no comprehensive solution that addresses the full life cycle of single-use foodware from cradle to grave. TRIA wants to take the lead in this with a closed-loop solution, which removes single-use foodware waste from the incineration and landfill process and converts them to a valuable resource that continues to serve our needs – in this case, food production.

With our world-first, zero-waste solution, Bio24, allows single-use foodware and food waste to be turned into farm-ready fertilizer in 24 hours. It can be returned to the food production cycle and used to support sustainable food production. The fertilizer is purely organic with no added chemicals, and we are currently working with partner farms to ensure it’s blended to provide the right nutrient mix for cash crops. We believe we will be able to meet local vegetable farmers’ demand for some 10,000 tonnes of fertilizer a year, supporting Singapore’s plan to have 30% of its food grown locally by 2030.

Flavorgator’s Henry Dominguez-Letelier: Flavorgator is aligned with the goals of world food day since we are working towards solving the FAO goals of Zero Hunger and Healthier diets. To do so we are not only fighting the foodwaste crisis at a consumption level, but also assisting clients we work with to leverage consumer insights to introduce and improve healthier menu options. 

How is your startup tackling the issue of food waste?

TRIA’s Ng: Our focus is on managing both single-use plastic foodware and food waste. As single-use food packaging is treated as general waste when contaminated with food, they are taken away to be incinerated and buried in Singapore’s only landfill. While incineration saves time and cost for processing these plastics, it is a stopgap measure that consumes fossil fuels, releases harmful gases and shortens the lifespan of the landfill – Singapore’s Pulau Semakau landfill is expected to run out of space by 2035 with current waste management practices.

Bio24’s ability to digest both foodware and food waste also removes the need for segregation – separating food waste from general waste for processing in food waste digestors.  While they have been in the market for years, segregation is an additional step that requires time and resources, making them a less sustainable method for food waste management. With Bio24, we aim to reduce the amount of single-use plastics used with our foodservice partners and divert single-use foodware and food waste from the incinerator to be processed into farm-ready fertilizer.

Flavorgator’s Dominguez-Letelier: By helping foodservice operators and suppliers understand their customers tastes, we are reducing food-waste caused by overproduction and disliked food. Furthermore we work are forming partnerships with local nonprofits to redirect wasted food to those in need.
Take us through your tech – how does it work?
TRIA’s Ng: Bio24 consists of three components – a line of proprietary 100% plant-based and fully customisable single-use food packaging, NEUTRIA®; a high-volume, non-chemical catalytic digestor capable of breaking down NEUTRIA® foodware and food waste into fertilizer within 24 hours; and zero waste certification for foodservice partners. Bio24’s ability to handle both foodware and food waste effectively allows food service waste to be turned into one single organic waste stream. This removes the need for segregation for recycling purposes, addressing a long-time gap in the recycling industry.
Flavorgator’s Dominguez-Letelier: The core of our community management platform is an Interactive menu that tracks consumers’ preferences through an intuitive feedback system. We generate insights on both food and service in real time by processing feedback and consumer preferences. This approach helps businesses reduce waste and increase satisfaction, without needing to spend prohibitive amounts of money on market research or mystery shoppers.

How can Singapore waste less food?

TRIA’s Ng: We believe conscious consumption is essential to reducing waste. Dining at establishments certified as eco-friendly or zero waste can contribute to reducing one’s food and packaging waste footprint, as well as being mindful of the amount of packaging that comes with your food. More importantly, we think more Singaporeans could educate themselves on what happens after they discard the food and single-use packaging they use.

Although some businesses have switched to biodegradable plastics for their packaging, these biodegradable plastics are still treated as general waste, incinerated and buried in our landfills. This is due to the logistics for storage, and the costs of processing to break these down. 

Flavorgator’s Dominguez-Letelier: Singapore can waste less food by continuing to focus on consumer education around portion size and stepping up their support for emerging brands using waste in interesting ways. One example of a company tackling the waste problem is Ugly Food, which uses fruits that are unsuitable for markets to produce premium juices. Encouraging more entrepreneurs to come up with ways to reuse waste is a powerful way to both fight waste and generate a new wave of local companies.

What goals would you like to achieve for food in the future?

TRIA’s Ng: As more partners come aboard, we have plans to scale up our digestor facilities and capacity in Singapore – this means we will be able to process more food packaging and food waste into fertilizer], supporting the local farming sector and Singapore’s “30 by 30” goal for food production. We are also pleased to share that we have applied for patents across some 30 countries, including Europe, Canada, Australia, and the USA, where we plan to implement Bio24 as an urban waste solution which closes the loop for plastics waste management, reduces usage of single-use plastic, and rapidly converts foodware and food waste into a time-efficient and valuable resource that supports further food production for the communities we operate in.
Flavorgator’s Dominguez-Letelier: We are currently working on going beyond selling our community management platform into collaborations with other startups in order to more efficiently reduce waste a scale. Aside from forging those partnerships, we are also leading a group called Food Entrepreneurs and Startups Tribe (FEAST) which we hope can be the go-to community for F&B innovation and collaboration.
Know of a startup that you think could help stamp out food waste? Drop me a note at [email protected].

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