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Food waste management: How technology and logistics can reduce food waste

Discover how innovations in technology and logistics are turning the tide against food waste, one smart solution at a time.

We need better food waste management

Broken chocolate Santas

In a world where hunger claims lives daily, it’s a sad reality that so much food ends up in the trash. About one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted annually – about 1.3 billion tons, worth some US$1 trillion. Think of it this way: All that “surplus food” could feed two billion individuals – more than double the number of undernourished people worldwide.

What’s more, annual global food waste results in CO2-equivalent (GtCO2e) emissions roughly equal to the total combined emissions of the US and EU.

Food waste is, therefore, doubly problematic, exacerbating the problem of food insecurity while also harming our environment.

Here, we examine this growing problem and how state-of-the-art technology and supply chain management can prevent food from being wasted.

Facts about food waste

One-third

Nearly a third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted.

2 billion

All the food produced but never eaten could feed two billion people.

1 trillion

Annual food lost or wasted is worth about US$1 trillion.

3rd place

If wasted food were a country, it would be the world’s third-largest producer of CO2, after the US and China.

The growing problem of food waste

Spoiled food

As the global population grows, so does the demand for food, which increases the potential for waste. Food is wasted at every step in the food supply chain, from farms to our refrigerators. A large portion lands in the trash before even reaching a supermarket or wholesaler. There are various reasons for this: “best before” dates are nearing or have just passed, labels or fill levels are faulty, or demand is low. Unsold seasonal items like Christmas cookies are a perfect example of products thrown away because no one wants them anymore.

Food waste is a systemwide problem that requires systemwide solutions. It occurs at every stage in the food production process, including growing, processing, sorting, packaging, transportation, and sales. That’s why we collaborate with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) to transform agribusiness by tackling the problem of food waste, enhancing food security, and improving global market access for producers.

As you move further down the food supply chain, the environmental impact of food waste becomes greater because all the resources used up to that point are also wasted, increasing the social cost. At these later stages, technology and logistics can play a crucial role in efficient food waste management. Below, we take a closer look at how logistics can help reduce food waste.

How can logistics reduce food waste?

There are several ways supply chain managers can reduce food waste:

  • Keeping it fresh – preventing food from spoiling
  • Keeping it flawless – avoiding waste due to caution
  • Keeping it in the loop – redistributing discarded foods

Preventing food from spoiling or being wasted due to caution is mainly a tech challenge. Better data lets people know that food is still safe, so they don’t throw it away. Redistributing discarded foods is primarily a logistics challenge that requires dense and efficient logistics operations.

Food waste management: Keeping it fresh

Temperature is a top priority in food logistics. Cucumbers, for example, must be kept in a cool environment and handled with utmost care. Once out of the ground, they need to be taken fresh from the field and straight to a cold storage facility. Transport from there to the supermarket requires a cold chain – a logistics network that can store and transport temperature-sensitive goods under controlled conditions.

State-of-the-art cold chains use smart sensors to track and log the environmental conditions of each shipment, such as temperature, humidity, shock, light, and even air pressure. Online platform solutions house and harness the data, allowing supply chain managers to monitor each product’s entire journey, tailor transport planning, and even digitalize customs clearance processes.

Distribute vegetables

Food waste management: Keeping it flawless

Spoiled food is unsafe, of course. But too much perfectly good food is thrown out due to caution. Food and beverage companies often don’t want to risk selling products past the “best before” date.

Technology can play an essential role in preventing this as well – like food waste management solutions that leverage the Internet of Things (IoT) in their supply chains. These solutions enable real-time monitoring of food items, which helps keep the food fresh and provides accurate data that tells people the products are safe for consumption. With this information, we can avoid the mistake of throwing out good food.


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Case Study: Reducing food waste on Avanti West Coast trains

DHL Supply Chain has managed onboard food services for Avanti in the UK since 2014. The team worked with DHL Customer Solutions & Innovation to develop a successful proof of concept for food waste management.

By deploying smart sensors across the train operator’s network, we helped reduce food waste by up to 90% – more than two tons a week! The plug-and-play sensors continuously monitor the temperature of food items, with data transmitted securely to the cloud. This allows for real-time decision-making and significantly reduces unnecessary waste.

Employees receive an alert when food should be thrown out. Reliable temperature data also helps them determine whether the contents of food boxes are still safe, eliminating waste created out of caution. Additionally, monitoring extends shelf life and meets regulatory requirements.

Following the project's success, we’re rolling the solution out across Avanti’s railway network.

Food waste management: Keeping it in the loop

You may have heard of “food sharing” – collecting unwanted, excess food products that stores would otherwise throw away and distributing them to people for consumption. But have you ever considered how that process works?

Many innovative food waste startups are developing original solutions to prevent food from being discarded. Often, these solutions involve efficient logistics and food waste management. The secret to their success is the targeted purchasing and selling of items – connecting with restaurants and food, buying the surplus food they would otherwise throw away, and selling it to consumers at discount prices before it spoils.

Logistics providers like DHL help these companies get the goods to their customers quickly, safely, and sustainably using our green logistics solutions.

Food waste management saves more than food

These success stories are just two ways logistics and technology can optimize food waste management. With the potential to drastically reduce food waste, these innovative practices set a benchmark for the industry and highlight the critical role of logistics companies in shaping a sustainable future.

The message is clear: managing food waste is a logistical challenge and an opportunity for innovation. We can save more than food by embracing technology and refining logistics processes. We can help save the planet.

DHL Freight FoodLogistics


Published: April 2024


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