Food Waste and Logistics Chains in North America
Updated: Feb 7
Let's face the facts, there is a problem with our food. To be more specific, there is an issue with the huge amount of food we waste every year. Food waste is an increasingly concerning problem in North America. Every year, billions of pounds of food are thrown away that could have otherwise been eaten or donated to those in need, converted to compost, or used as animal feed. This has devastating consequences for our planet and its people. This article will look at the reality of food waste in North America and the logistics and supply chains that handle them.
The problem of food waste
Our culture of disposability and our reliance on processed, packaged foods plus highly inefficient supply chains, can be said to be the root cause of food loss/waste. One study by the National Resources Defense Council found that as much as 40% of the food produced in the United States is wasted. That’s 20 pounds of food per person, per month!
Canadians create over 50 million tonnes of food waste every year despite 60% of it being avoidable.
The problem of food waste is a global one, but it is especially acute in North America. The continent's highly developed and industrialized food system results in huge amounts of food being wasted each year.
Most of this waste occurs at the retail and consumer level, but a significant amount is also generated by the food industry itself. Logistics and transportation are two of the biggest contributors to food waste in North America.
There are several reasons why this is the case. First, the sheer size of the continent means that there are long distances between farms and factories, and between factories and retailers. This results in a lot of food being transported by truck, which is an inefficient way to move goods.
Second, the high degree of specialization in the North American food system means that each link in the supply chain is optimized for its efficiency, rather than for the efficiency of the whole system. This leads to situations where farmers produce more than retailers can sell, or where factories produce more than retailers can stock.
Third, the on-demand nature of the North American food system often results in perishable goods being transported long distances without adequate refrigeration or other preservation methods. This increases the chances that these goods will go bad before they reach their destination, resulting in even more wasted food.
All of these factors combine to create a massive problem of food waste in North America. Logistics and transportation are two major contributors to this problem, and addressing them is key to reducing the amount of food that goes to waste in North America.
North American food waste statistics
According to the USDA, approximately 30-40% of the food supply in the United States is wasted each year. That’s equivalent to about $161 billion worth of food! Over in Canada, the story isn’t much better. According to Made in CA, Canadians create over 50 million tonnes of food waste every year despite 60% of it being avoidable through better planning and awareness. The average Canadian household produces 79 kilograms of food waste per year according to the UN Food Waste Index, with a staggering 47% of food waste in Canada being generated at the household level. But it should be well noted that the wastage starts well before the food gets to the dining table.
A large portion of this food waste occurs during the logistics chain – from farms and manufacturers to grocery stores and restaurants. A study by IBM found that 20% of all food waste in North America occurs in the distribution and transportation phases.
There are many reasons why food is wasted during logistics, including damaged or spoiled products, incorrect orders, and even weather conditions. But whatever the reason, it’s clear that there’s a lot of room for improvement when it comes to food waste management in North America.
Fortunately, some companies and organizations are working on solutions to this problem. For example, Walmart is working with suppliers to reduce food waste throughout its supply chains. And the Food Waste Reduction Alliance is a collaborative effort between businesses and nonprofits that aims to educate businesses about best practices for reducing food waste.
Solutions to reduce food waste in logistics chains
In recent years, the focus on food waste has shifted from the consumer to the supply chain. The problem of food waste is not only about individual responsibility but also about logistics chains that are not efficient. In North America, it is estimated that 30-40% of all food produced is wasted, and a large portion of this waste occurs in the logistics chain.
There are many ways to reduce food waste in logistics chains. One way is to optimize the supply chain so that food is only transported when it is needed. This can be done by using real-time data to forecast demand and only transporting the necessary amount of food. Another way to reduce food waste is to adopt a just-in-time delivery model so that food is delivered as close to when it will be used as possible. This minimizes the time that food spends in storage and reduces the risk of spoilage.
A third way to reduce food waste in logistics chains is to improve packaging so that it better protects food and prevents damage during transport. This includes using stronger materials that can withstand rough handling, as well as better cushioning to protect delicate items.
Finally, reducing food waste in logistics chains requires effective communication between all parties involved so that everyone understands their role in preventing waste.
Can technology play a role in solving food waste?
Every food item has specific conditions for its collection, transportation, and storage. Food Logistics and others are advocating ditching the current analog technology stack for more digital solutions. An excellent example of this would be using technologies such as that created by Bluicity. This allows for more accurate tracking of the conditions of food items all along the supply chain in real time. Knowing that the condition of an item during shipping reduces spoilage, alerts to environmental changes, and lots more benefits which we will dive into in our next post.
More resources you can look into Food Loss and Waste can be found using the links below:
The North American Initiative on Food Waste Reduction and Recovery
Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill
Bluicity gives entire supply chains actionable product visibility and 100% traceability of products, live, at every step. Bluicity solutions are proactive, providing immediate notifications to prevent damage, increasing profitability, product security and quality, and sustainability.
An experienced executive and serial entrepreneur in Internet technology and services along with food industry logistics, Bob is passionate on significantly reducing food waste. In 2020 he brought together seasoned team of founders to launch Bluicity delivering on that through digitalizing the supply chain, live transparency and AI based predictions to avoid spoilage and reduce orders and inventory.