Victorian businesses took a deep dive into why and how to implement food waste solutions as part of the National Sustainable Living Festival.
The seminar ‘Fighting food waste: solutions and support for business’ was the first in a series of food waste events that the Circular Economy Business Innovation Centre is hosting.
Attendees were treated to evidence for and insights on food waste opportunities for business across the supply chain, shared by our speakers:
The event followed the release of our new research report The Path to Half: Solutions to halve Victoria’s food waste by 2030, which explains the true cost of food waste in Victoria and gives us the first-ever Australian perspective on the impacts of food waste and food production on climate change, water loss and economic cost.
Businesses have a key role in reducing Victoria’s 2.4 million tonnes of food waste and they have a lot to gain. The Path to Half identifies the most impactful solutions as we work towards halving food waste in Victoria by 2030. Many offer businesses with opportunities to save money, diversify, grow and make a difference.
If you’re from a Victorian business tackling food waste, apply for the Recycling Victoria Business Support Fund.
If you attended the session, please provide us with feedback.
Illustrations were done in real time to capture key ideas and insights raised at the event.
Watch the full recording of the event below.
This video shows four speakers presenting at the ‘Fighting food waste seminar’ on 10 February 2021.
The presenter is Kate Dundas from Sustainability Victoria.
The speakers are:
[Opening visual of slide with text saying ‘Sustainability Victoria’, ‘Victoria State Government’, ‘Fighting food waste’]
[The visuals during this webinar are of the presenter and panellists seated on stage, with Mark Barthel appearing via video.]
Welcome, everybody, to our ‘Fighting food waste’ event. We’re absolutely delighted to have you here today. For those of you who’ve just joined us, we’re asking you to go to the audience polling question. So there’s a tab on the right hand side of your screen where you’ll see ‘Polling’. If you could type in your name, press ‘Enter’, and then answer the question about your level of knowledge or experience in the circular economy. And what we’re seeing at the moment is, we’ve got quite a lot of experts with us, so hopefully we’ll be able to inspire and give you some ideas today about what’s possible to reduce food waste.
So, welcome, one and all. We’ll start with acknowledging the country that we’re meeting on today. We acknowledge the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet. We acknowledge Birrarung, the Yarra River, the lifeblood of our community. We acknowledge Nerm, Port Phillip Bay, which filters the water that comes from our land and our communities. We acknowledge the parks and gardens that form a nest of biodiversity and sanctuary around our city, which we’ve all been appreciating in 2020 through lockdown. We acknowledge the First Nations people of the Kulin nation. We acknowledge their continuing and living connections to land and sea through Elders past, present and emerging. We also acknowledge the many paths of migration our ancestors and the business cultures have brought with them to this ancient place that we now call Melbourne. May we draw upon their wisdom as we start to dream of new horizons.
So today we’re going to hear from three guests. We’re going to find out about what they’ve been doing. We’re going to learn about the ‘Path to Half’ report. After we’ve heard and spoken to our three guests, we’ll have a Q&A. There’s a ‘Q&A’ tab on the right hand side of your screen. So as we’re listening to the guests and hearing about what they’ve been doing and questions are coming to mind, please type those questions into the Q&A and we’ll get to them later on. And to access the polling, you can type in your name and press ‘Enter’. I encourage you to ask your questions as we go, and we’ll look forward to getting to them in the Q&A session shortly.
So our speakers today. So we’re firstly delighted to welcome Mark Barthel. Mark is the Chief Operating Officer at Stop Food Waste Australia, a new organisation partnering with state local government, as well as peak industry bodies to lead the delivery of Australia’s target. The target is to halve food waste by 2030. He’s worked all over the world and with a number of different businesses looking at ways to reduce food waste.
Our second speaker is Claire Leach, founder and CEO of HATCH Biosystems. Welcome, Claire. Claire is an entrepreneur working to use insects to convert food waste into livestock feed and fertiliser. Claire trained in the USA to develop skills and knowledge in insect rearing. Since starting HATCH in 2016, Claire has raised over $2.5 million in private investment and government grants to develop in-house IP, and is now scaling up her operations for commercialisation in 2022.
Our third guest is Michele Canepa, Supply Chain Director at General Mills. Michele works in manufacturing, logistics and supply chain management, and is the Supply Chain Director of General Mills Australia and New Zealand, serving customers and consumers brands that we’ll all be familiar with – Old El Paso, Latina, Betty Crocker, Nature Valley and Haagen-Dazs. So we’ve got a wonderful selection of guests covering all sorts of things, from start-up to major manufacturing.
So we all know that food waste is an issue, and with the target of halving food waste by 2030, what opportunities does this present for businesses in our food supply chain? Today we’re going to hear about the ‘Path to Half’ report, which talks about the issues, but also presents a number of solutions and positively forward for business. We’ll hear about solutions and opportunities from our guests, some of which are outlined in the ‘Path to Half’ report, and many of which are happening now. There will be opportunities to get inspired and to ask questions. We’re hoping today should be a practical session, and one where you’ll be able to find potential projects within existing businesses that you can use to address and reduce food waste. And there will also be opportunity to learn about potential government funding available to financially support the ideas and the realisation of circular economy principles.
So I think we’re going to hear the results of our first poll.
We do actually have quite a good selection of different types of people here. Some expert, some pretty familiar. Most of the people have heard of the concept and are interested in learning about how to apply the concept. A few who are new to the concept, and others – none in fact – Circular? What does it mean? That’s really helpful information, so we’ll think about how we’ll be able to answer some of those questions as we talk through our guests. So let’s go to Mark. Welcome, Mark, Mark Barthel. Welcome. How are you?
I’m good thank you.
We’d love to hear from you about food waste as an opportunity, but perhaps you could start off by telling us about the ‘Path to Half’ report.
Sure. So the ‘Path to Half’ report really had a look at the whole food chain in Victoria, and looked at where food was being wasted, from farm to fork. It focused on a number of food products that were really a big part of the Victorian economy, so things like the dairy industry, the meat industry, fresh produce and so on. And it used a process called ‘hotspots analysis’ to really help us to prioritise not just the issues in terms of food waste and where they occur in the supply chain in Victoria, but also the range of interventions or solutions that we could bring to bear to tackle food waste at different points in the food value chain.
Excellent. Thank you, Mark. Can you talk a little bit about the value chain and where are we seeing food waste happening at the moment?
Sure. So I think probably this will be a good opportunity to really talk about what the situation is in Australia, and then I’ll talk a bit about how does that look in Victoria, so the situational snapshot, which is represented in this graphic here. So all of these numbers are taken from the original national food waste baseline in Australia, and what we can see in the top right-hand corner of the slide is, we’re wasting around getting on 7.5 million tonnes of food every year.
But I want to draw your attention really to a few things in that bar chart in the top right. So the first is that Australia as an OECD country has got quite an unusual food waste profile. Typically in OECD countries we see most of the food waste occurring in wholesale, retail and in the consumption phase of the food system. But in Australia, we see almost a third of food waste occurring in primary production, almost a quarter occurring in manufacturing, and then between 3% and 4% across wholesale, retail, hospitality and food service and in our institutions, with a fairly whopping 34% occurring in our homes. So in primary production, that’s just one really problematic area. We’re seeing about 2 ¼ million tonnes of food doesn’t even make it out of the field. And we’re trying to get a better understanding of that.
So that’s quite an unusual picture for an OECD country, and I guess what it says is, the opportunities are everywhere. So everyone in the food value chain really has to get engaged with this topic. They all have a role to play.
In terms of cost and the environmental impact in Australia, so we believe kind of the base case in terms of cost is around $20 billion it costs the Australian economy. We think that’s probably understated, and as we find out more about the food waste situation in Australia, as our understanding of the issue becomes more granular, those numbers seem to go up. And on the environmental impact side, just taking one example here, so the 7.6 million tonnes of CO2 emissions is just what the emissions are in landfill when food goes to landfill. If we look at the emissions, all that embodied energy and resources that goes into food that’s grown and distributed and processed, manufactured and sold only to be wasted, we’re really looking at around 20 million tonnes of CO2 emissions in Australia. So if we were to tackle that, that’s roughly the equivalent of taking 5 million cars off Australian roads. So this is really significant.
I’m just going to pause you there, Mark, and go to the audience with another polling question. Which foods do you think are most wasted? So if you could have a moment to think about that, and answer the question on the right hand side of your screen. So Mark, 5 million cars off the road. What does that look like?
Pretty dramatic. That would probably pretty much be a car-free Melbourne, if not greater Melbourne. So a really significant reduction in emissions. One of the things that we know in the food system is that growing food globally is responsible for over a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. And we have a very large agri food system in Australia, so we can expect to see a lot of greenhouse gas emissions from that, but a lot of opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as we tackle food waste as well.
Thank you. There’s clearly a very big issue to tackle here. And you’ve talked about the environmental impacts. What other impacts are we seeing across environmental, social, economic?
So if I switch to the Victorian situation now, we see obviously greenhouse gases. So the greenhouse gas emissions from food waste in Victoria are around 15% of Victoria’s non‑energy related greenhouse gas emissions. So this is a pretty significant issue. But it’s also consuming a very large amount of water in growing, cleaning, processing those food crops. So around 29 billion litres of water. That’s I know a little bit of an intangible number to deal with, so let’s just put it into how many Olympic-sized swimming pools that is. That’s about 12,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools full of water that’s used to produce and clean and manufacture and so on our food that is being wasted. And we all know how important water stewardship is in Australia.
And can you talk a little bit about the social impacts that we’re seeing?
Yeah. So it’s pretty tragic actually. In Australia we have a lot of people experiencing food insecurity. So in 2019 when Foodbank’s Hunger Report was published, roughly 5 million Australians had experienced food insecurity in the previous 12 months. With the black summer and the bushfires and obviously COVID, we’ve seen those numbers go up. So we believe now around 3 in 10 Australians, so roughly a third of Australians, have experienced food insecurity in some way. So we have a situation where a lot of food is being wasted, and a lot of people are in real need of food relief, of actually being able to eat and be able to provide healthy and nutritious meals for their families. So we need to find ways of not just reducing food waste, but in the process of doing that, reducing food insecurity in Australia a well.
So it sounds like there’s very clear issues, very clear problems, which will lead to lots of opportunities, business opportunities for people who potentially are listening today. We asked the audience earlier which foods they think are most wasted. I know that the ‘Path to Half’ report summarises our top 6 to fix. Can you tell us what they are?
Sure. So what we’re talking about here then, so I talked a bit about focusing on those priority crops. So here we can see tomatoes. And really how the ‘Path to Half’ report has prioritised this is looking at those foods that are the most expensive to waste, so how can we put money back in our pockets, how can we improve the profitability of food businesses in Victoria, but also how do we reduce those impacts like greenhouse gas emissions or water use. So these 6 food groups – so we talk about meat. So meat in Victoria represents about 0.5 million tonnes of food waste, but it’s also one of the highest greenhouse gas emitters. Similarly milk and dairy, with nearly a quarter of a million tonnes of fresh milk alone is wasted. And just to put that into perspective, for every litre of milk that we can save from being wasted, we save 2.4 kilos of carbon emissions and an economic cost of around $1.40. So when you look at that and you see 230,000 tonnes and those sorts of numbers, there’s an opportunity to save money and emissions, this is pretty significant.
In terms of apples, this is pretty common around the world to see fruit and vegetables as kind of the highest wasted food items, because they’re some of the most perishable food groups. So we see apples here. That’s around just over 40,000 tonnes. And again, to put that into perspective, for every apple that’s eaten in Victoria, another half an apple is wasted. So these are quite significant wastage volumes here. And bread and bakery as well plays a part in this process. So we know across Australia, between 8% and 15% of total bakery production is wasted, and we need to figure out what to do with that. And I’ll come on to some of the interventions in a minute, because there are some ingenious interventions being developed. So for example, a lot of companies now are thinking about using bread to brew beer, to reduce the amount of grain that’s required to do that. And obviously cheese as well in the dairy sector. It produces a lot of whey. And so we need to think about what do we do with that whey waste? Can we convert it into protein powder, into stock feed, or even if we play a bit more smartly with technology, how can we convert it into things like peptides to improve the nutritional profile of different food groups.
So what you’ve outlined so far is that we’ve got top 6 to fix, there’s plenty of opportunities outlined in the ‘Path to Half’ report, and you’ve spoken about some of them now, Mark. Can you just go into a little bit more detail about why this makes sense from a business perspective?
Sure. So we are fortunate in some respects to be benefiting from about 2 decades of work on food waste around the world in some countries. So I know where I came from in the UK, we really started work on food waste in the early 2000s in quite a lot of detail. So we benefit from that. And what we know from a lot of case study material and a lot of international studies, the global average, if you’re investing to prevent food waste in your business, for every dollar you put in, you should get around $14 back. So the return on investment timeframe for some of these interventions as well is incredibly short, in some cases, weeks or months – rather than the 2-year timeframe you might expect to see as the benchmark for return on investment for innovation in the food industry. So it’s a pretty impressive financial business case, but it’s also multifaceted, because it’s about doing the right thing. It’s about conserving natural resources. It’s about making sure food is available for those that need it.
And in your work over the past decades, what are some of the coolest things you’ve seen? What’s been inspiring you?
So on the reduction side, it’s quite amazing to see the role that technology can play, and the digital backbone of a lot of food chains now is becoming stronger, so we have a lot more transparency around how materials, how foods flow through value chains. And that also means that we can identify where food waste hotspots occur as well. Because if we see one volume of food leaving one stage of the value chain and less food turning up in the next part of the value chain, then we know we’ve got a problem. We know we’ve probably got a hotspot there. So that whole digital transparency, block chain, the Internet of Things and so on, is a really, really good technology to latch on to, and smart food factories as well. We’re now seeing the birth of what they call ‘triple zero’ food factories, so zero food waste, zero net water use, zero net carbon, zero emissions. So there’s some pretty phenomenal technologies going on using things like industry four- and industry five-type solutions in factories that connect a production line. So you can immediately see where you’ve got a problem with production.
On the transformation side, so I mentioned brewing beer with bread. Actually in the brewing industry in Australia, we know we have about 300,000 tonnes of wet spent brewer’s grain, so all the stuff that goes in to making the beer, and that’s an incredibly valuable material. We’ve used all the sugar in that grain in the brewing process, but what’s left is a very high fibre, low calorie, packed full of antioxidants, lots of prebiotics and probiotics, so good for gut health. And I’ve seen some great examples from around the world of people using that spent brewers’ grains to create healthy snack bars, to create low glycemic flours, even to create healthy snack foods like popped grain. So it looks a bit like chips or crisps. So there’s a lot of innovation there, a lot of creativity going on, which we really need to kind of tap in to here.
And there are practical ways that we can tap in to the creative solutions to deal with food waste, and one of those opportunities is accessing some grants. So can you talk a little bit about what might be available to people who are listening today?
Yeah. Sure. So in Victoria, at the moment there is a couple of rounds live for the Recycling Victoria Innovation Fund, and I believe at some point during this discussion we’ll see the link to that. But essentially there’s one stream which is looking at how do we bring together collaborative partnerships that identify opportunities and apply kind of innovative circular economy solutions to the food waste situation. Now those grants are anything from $75,000 to $200,000 for businesses to apply in to. It’s match funding, so there is some in-kind funding or some in-kind staff time required. And on the Stream 2 collaborative innovation stream, there’s up to $450,000 here going to help businesses come together to tackle in particular things like whole of supply chain solutions to food waste.
So very often what we find is that to really understand food waste, we need to take what we describe as kind of a walkthrough the supply chain. So we gather up all of the actors in a supply chain, from the farmer through to the consumer, and we see what’s happening. We kind of unpick what the issues are, where those hotspots are, what the root causes of food waste are in a value chain, and then we find the solutions to address them. So this is a great fund. It’s a really great opportunity for food businesses to bid in for their own businesses, but particularly to bid in with value chain partners, supply chain partners and others to really make a difference here.
Thank you so much for your time today, talking to us about highlighting what the problem is, and also identifying solutions and potential pathways forward. And remember that you can add your Q&As in to the ‘Question’ tab on the right hand side of your screen, and there will be an opportunity to go back and drill down a little bit further with Mark after we’ve spoken to our other guests.
And I believe we have some results in from our last question, where we asked you which foods do you think are most wasted. We’ve got vegetables as the clear winner. And the top 6 to fix – I’ve got to remember if it included vegetables. It did. Well done. But we also had milk, apples, tomatoes. So there’s a few there. When I think about apples, my toddler always takes one bite of an apple and then just leaves them around the house. So if somebody can come up with a solution for that, that would be wonderful.
So we’ll just move on to our next guest, and we’re absolutely delighted to have Claire with us today. So Claire is the founder and CEO of HATCH Biosystems. But before we go to Claire, we have another question for you to answer, which is: which of the circular economy principles do you think are most relevant when it comes to preventing food waste? And don’t worry. You don’t need to know what those principles are off the top of your head. It’s a multiple choice question. So pop again in to the ‘Polling’ tab and we’ll come back to the answers after we’ve spoken to Claire.
So welcome Claire. It’s absolutely wonderful to have you with us. And Claire, you’re an entrepreneur. You’ve recently started HATCH Biosystems. So can you just introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your business?
My pleasure. Thanks for inviting me. So I founded HATCH about 5 years ago, and it was founded out of research I was doing when I was previously working as a director of development for a food rescue charity. And I realised that the food that the charity was able to rescue was the tip of the iceberg in terms of food waste, so it led me to do a whole lot of research for other solutions, and I found out about insects. A company overseas in South Africa was using a particular type of fly that had a very large larvae that was a really big eater and very fast. It could eat 10,000 times its size within 14 days. It grew from miniscule to 10,000 times its size. So it was eating a lot of food waste. And then you could process that insect further, dry it, process it, and it would be a terrific nutrient-rich food for livestock feed, but also it creates a sort of nutrient-rich fertiliser as well. So all the excretions of that eating process and the exoskeleton and sheddings of the larvae are fantastic for plant nutrients. So it just seemed a really great idea, and I wanted it to happen in Australia. So that was where I was 5 years ago, and now we’re nearly able to reach commercial size.
It’s a wonderful story, and I love the idea of you sitting there five years ago working in the not-for-profit sector, probably behind a desk, and thinking that you had this kernel of an idea. And there’s probably some people listening today that also have an idea that they want to make happen. Can you just talk a little bit about what spurs you on to take that move? What were the first things that you did? How were you brave enough to do it?
Yes. Well I have to say now there’s a lot of talk, I mean the media’s had a lot of stories about insects as food or feed over the last three or four years, so it’s definitely something that people are not so surprised about now. But when I first started looking at it, people thought I was crazy, and I got a lot of laughter. My surname’s Leach, so I also got a lot of insect jokes. But I think for me, it just made so much sense. And I knew that there was a problem with food waste. I knew that charities weren’t going to solve it, no matter how big the charities grew. And it was such a great idea, I just couldn’t shake it. And even now, 5 years later, it’s a tough road doing a start‑up, especially something that’s a physical start-up, an agribusiness. But I love it. I can’t shake it. I still think it’s wonderful, and I’m so excited that we’re now at a point where we’re actually going to be starting to make an impact on that food waste that Mark just talked about.
So going back to the very beginning, what were the practical steps that you took to get finance, to get the right advice, to get the right support, to solidify your vision?
Yeah. It is hard, because there was no business I could look at to see what did they do. There was no one in Australia that had any experience in this. I actually ended up going to the US and doing some training over there with some experts. I also sought out entomologists in Australia, and they didn’t know anything about this particular fly. So it was very challenging. It was a very slow sort of start. I couldn’t just sit there and do some technology coding or something. Not that I’m dismissing that as easy, but it was very challenging. And I also had to find the fly. I had to prove to the Australian Government that it had been in Australia before 1956, so it wasn’t going to be a biodiversity quarantine hazard. So there was a lot of things I wasn’t expecting. I had to go literally out to the wilds of Queensland and find the fly, brought it back to Melbourne, and Virgin Australia, I’m not sure they realised what was in the bags. So yeah, it was a journey.
Then it was, how do you resource this. So we had to have a physical site. We had to have staff – I was obviously working 24/7 – and find funding. So for me it was friends, family and fools I think is the terminology that you use. Firstly I managed to get a person in my network who had a little bit of spare money and said ‘I really like this idea. I’ll put down a relatively small amount on the table’. Then my family said ‘Well, if someone else is going to do it, we could give you some money too,’ and I had some money. So that was really just enough to get us going. Very smell of an oily rag of course, very small, and it was really just learning how the business was going to work. And then just doing a whole lot of research on where was the waste, where were the waste streams that I was going to start tackling. So it was a lot of R&D, writing a feasibility study, all those things. And you don’t know how to do that. You don’t have training in that. So it was a learning curve. So I think for me it was understanding and appreciating that it was going to be a long journey, and that it was okay to take that time. And you certainly don’t want to burn cash, so making sure that you as the founder – I was doing a lot of the insect work, the admin work, the fundraising work – you have to be able to handle all situations.
But if you love the idea, people will come on board with you. But you have to love the idea. And I think I was mentioning earlier before we started, it has to be an idea that solves a problem. I think that was really critical as well for me. We can often think about ideas that are great, because we all want to start our own business, some of us. And I’d done that, but no idea lasted more than a week. This idea just would not go, and I realised there was a need, and that really just kept the passion and the drive going forward. And people then become involved in that.
So you’re 5 years in now. You’re looking at scaling the business. So what are the challenges that are ahead of you now?
Yeah. So we’ve got a few challenges. So funding has been fantastic. We’ve been really fortunate that in food and agriculture you’re in a government sweet spot now, so there’s a lot of government initiatives such as SV’s funding and broader federal government initiatives to put some funding into this area. So that’s great. So there are opportunities. The challenges are that sometimes you need to match that funding, which is difficult for a start-up. However with things like SV, a lot of the funding can be in-kind. So your labour is something that can be put to match that funding. So they’re really fantastic grants. Those particular grants are great. Staffing. You can’t put an ad up, say I want someone with 5 years’ insect farming. It’s not going to happen. So that has been challenging. I used to say I should make a t-shirt that said ‘Maggots are easy. People are difficult’. I think you read any book about start-ups, and it is getting that right group of people in.
So they’re the challenges, and just making sure that your – for us it was a lot about our IP, what is going to make us special, how are we going to make sure that we can keep our costs down and not just be a premium, ‘Well if you want to be sustainable, give us $1,000 per tonne and we’ll handle it,’ when landfill is $200 a tonne. So you need to be able to make sure that your solution is competitive to the market and the products you’re creating are competitively priced as well. And that was really one of the things I was very keen on as well coming from that charity sector. I really wanted to make sure this was a solution that everyone could access, not just those that were wanting to pay a high price.
Fantastic. Thank you, Claire. And remember, there’s opportunities to ask Claire further questions at the Q&A, and you can pop your questions in to the ‘Q&A’ tab on the right hand side of the screen. So Claire, it seems like you need to find the particular problem to solve, have a very clear vision and don’t be afraid of things that are hard. Just give it a go.
Yeah. Tenacity is definitely something you need to do as a founder.
People don’t call you back. You need to keep calling people.
We’re going to now move on to our third guest, who comes from a different background. So we’ve gone from entrepreneurial start-up, and now we’ve got Michele Canepa here from General Mills. So Michele, if you could talk to us about what General Mills is and what you’ve been doing over the last couple of years to create more of a circular supply chain.
Thank you, Kate, and thank you for having me. So I lead the supply chain organisation for General Mills here in Australia and New Zealand. General Mills is a food company, and we own our supply chain, in a sense that we source, manufacture and distribute our products here in Australia. And we have a fairly complex and mixed supply chain as well, in a sense that we work across all the temperature channels, we have both locally produced and imported products, and we have mainly our own manufacturing, but we also rely on external manufacturing. So that in my opinion makes General Mills quite a good and really applicable case study when it comes to waste generation.
Now as a food company, the elimination of waste has always been an objective for us, but 2 years ago we decided to really upgrade our ambition, and we decided to commit to a journey that will basically take us to prevent any of our finished product to end up in the landfill. This is when Project Zero was born, with the intent of moving more towards a circular supply chain model. We’ve done a lot of things on Project Zero. I would say the 2 main strategies we have adopted, one is internal, so we’ve really step changed our capability around the planning and governance around waste to understand where we were generating waste in the supply chain, and early in the process, so that we could take actions.
And the second strategy was about finding ideas to drive these actions, so making sure we could have a solution for that waste, for our food excessive waste throughout the product lifecycle. So obviously we produce our stock to sell it. When we cannot do that because demand changes, then we look to sell it to alternative channels. In this sense, I think Yume has been a phenomenal partner for us in finding an alternative way to sell our stock. So that’s been really, really helpful. When selling is not possible, obviously we look at donations, and we had a long-term collaboration with the likes of Foodbank and Second Bite. So we are going from strength to strength there as well. And in the worst case scenario, and luckily it doesn’t happen often, but when a product is not sellable, then we are looking for partners to break down our products and recycle it, and in that we’ve been working with Suez in the last year quite successfully.
So we are 2 years in the process. I think we’re very proud of the results we have achieved. We have reduced significantly our waste to landfill by about 80%. Just to give you some sense of how much volume in that, it is about the weight of 360 elephants. So it’s a lot of volume we have taken out from the land. We are not zero yet. We have a few more elephants to save. So we’ll stick to our commitment. We want to get to zero. Initially we said 2025. I think with the progress we have done we can probably do that even earlier, which proves in my opinion it can be done.
That’s an incredible achievement, reducing your food waste by 80% in 2 years. And it sounds like you had a very comprehensive strategy. You had your internal processes, your external processes and ways that you were partnering, and you also had a dedicated team who were looking after this project. So can you talk to us a little bit about the benefits that you’ve seen from adopting this?
So the benefits I think are significant for a food producer or manufacturer in reducing waste, and some are more obvious than others. So there is the benefit in reducing a loss. So obviously every company invests in their resources and time in producing a product, which obviously if ends up being waste, and you also have to pay to dispose that waste, it becomes a loss on top of a loss. So clearly there is reducing waste, there is an economical or financial impact. There is an operational benefit in a sense that you free up your capacity and resources to do something more value adding. And obviously Mark talked about the environmental impacts, so that’s huge as well.
Something maybe a little bit less obvious but as important, if not more in my opinion, is about reputation and brand equity. So corporate social responsibility I think is not a nice to have anymore. It’s a true compelling business need. And I believe it will become a competitive advantage even in the future. I think consumers nowadays are much more aware and very attentive on how a food company shows up and behaves, and I think in the longer term they will reward those companies that are stronger from a sustainability point of view.
Actually, last I want to leave something I really found out in the last couple of years. Don’t underestimate the impact on your own organisation. When you really do such a cultural change and you set yourself to the right path, you get a great return on investment from your people and talent, because our employee engagement has never been so high, and some of the reasons are because people like to be part of a solution and make an impact. So don’t underestimate that as well.
It’s very motivating to hear you speak. There might be other food manufacturing businesses listening in today. Can you give us any ideas and recommendations for people that are just starting on their journey?
So for me, everything starts with leadership. And as a supply chain lead, make sure your food waste reduction is a priority for the business, not just for your function. It needs to be compelling for the business. I think it helps to have a bold vision, because you drive traction and inspire the organisation. For us it was very helpful to have a project, to set a project and a project theme, because it gives structure and focus and energy at the beginning. However it is important that when the project is mature enough it gets embedded in your business model, because then it becomes ways of working and it’s part of your DNA.
Picking out what Mark said before, that waste is now happening in every supply chain, so we need to be more proactive I think. We cannot react to it anymore. We need to learn how to forecast our waste and plan for it, because it’s present. And plan for it early enough so that you can take action. Last, as I said before, I think try to have an end to end approach and partner externally. I think the last 2 years for me have been mind-blowing in terms of what we have learned by doing that. Whether you partner with your supplier or customers, or even your peers or competitors, food waste is something we should collaborate rather than compete. And there are a lot of resources out there. Attending a forum or a webinar like this I think is a great start, but there are many solutions out there. I think Claire presented a great one, and surely we’ve found some really good ones. So take the lead and reach out externally.
Thank you. Lots and lots of opportunities to consider. Thank you so much everybody for your input so far. So I think we’ve got another polling result from the question which of the circular economy principles do you think are most relevant when it comes to preventing food waste. So majority answer is eliminating waste and pollution through design, which we’ve heard about from our wonderful guests. Keep products and materials in use, regenerate natural systems got a little bit. All of the above – I can’t choose is by far the winner. So we’re looking at whole circular economy principles across all three areas. I think that was very clear as a result.
So we’re now going to move in to our Q&A session. So we’re hoping for some questions to be coming through to us now. They’re going to pop up on the screen. We’ve got one from Jonathan, and it’s for you, Mark. He’s not in the office. He’s not with us. He’s online.
Question: You mentioned there’s a lot of knowledge to benefit from in the world. Which countries or cities do you think have done the best work in this, and are the best living example of a very low-waste system?
Excellent question. Mark. We’ll go to Mark first, and some of our other panellists might have something to add afterwards.
So I’d start by saying if you’re looking at countries that are really good examples of tackling food waste in a very holistic way, I’ve got to say where I come from, the UK, is probably one of the global leaders in this. We started work on food waste over 16 years ago. When you look at what the country has achieved and what the Waste and Resources Action Program, which is their key kind of waste and resource agency in the UK, has been able to achieve in its programs of work, so voluntary commitment programs with industry, nationwide behaviour change campaigns for consumers, resources for businesses, the ability to bring together whole of supply chain collaborations, and run through so many different food value chains. The UK now has, when you look at the UN target on reducing food waste, which again is to halve food waste on a per capita level by 2030, the UK is 31.5% of the way there, and it has another 10 years. So it’s been doing some really ground-breaking work.
The Netherlands, Denmark are also really good examples of taking a kind of multi-faceted, multi‑perspective view on food waste, investing heavily in innovation, looking at food transformation. And this is something we should be looking at here. I mentioned earlier we have 2 ¼ million tonnes of food that doesn’t even make it out in the field. We need to change the economics in that. We need to find ways of improving and unlocking value in addressing food waste. And there are some great examples. The business case of $14:$1 for investment return is phenomenal, and yet so many businesses here are not aware of that sort of scale of potential.
So those are the countries I’d be looking to. I know that there are plans afoot in Australia, for example for Adelaide to become the first zero food waste city. Sorry Melbourne. So there is a lot of thinking afoot around how do we be a bit more spatially specific about what we do. So how can we set up food transformation hubs near major production zones or major flows of food processing waste. So there’s plenty to learn. If you go online and search for food waste reduction tools, there are so many. It’s almost bewildering. So it’s more a case of figuring out what tools are suitable for your particular business and then trialling them.
Thank you very much for that answer. Would either Claire or Michele like to add anything? Have you seen stuff working really well elsewhere, any other cities or countries?
Well I’d probably repeat what Mark said. I come from working in the UK, so we have seen organisations working on food there. I think where they’ve probably been more advanced in the UK than here is how they connect and collaborate across the industry, just because they’re a bit more mature organisations there. But we are catching up. As General Mills, I’m part of the AFGC, so the Australian Food and Grocery Council, and there is a food waste pillar there as well. So we are looking to share knowledge and case study, and just make sure we can get all of that level. So as I said before, I think we have to collaborate more on food waste.
There’s a function with the questions that you’re able to like them. So if you see questions popping up that you want us to answer, like them and we’ll prioritise them. So on to the next question.
Question: I’m really interested in reducing waste in my business, but I don’t know where to get started or who to talk to. Who can I talk to to help me make my case clearer within my business?
That’s partially been answered by Mark. He said there’s lots and lots of stuff available online. But if somebody wants to talk to an actual person, and, Michele, you’ve just mentioned mentorships in the UK, is there anything similar happening in Australia? How do people get more practical conversational help?
Where I am based, the city of Kensington in southeast Melbourne, that council actually has started something called Aspire, which is not just for that council, I think it’s Victoria and it might even be broader, and it’s purely about the circular economy. So you can connect with other businesses, but I believe you can also connect with experts who know about that. And I think there’s a program that is being run through Aspire, and I think maybe RMIT, that’s something to do with mentoring businesses. So I think probably if you want to go to look up the Aspire website – A-S-P-I-R-E – then you might find some information there. They’re actually planning on rolling out courses for businesses, where they have people go in and help mentor you.
I would just say take the initiative. I think it’s not too difficult now to reach out to people, whether it’s through social network or LinkedIn. And food waste or sustainability is a topic that gets lots of traction and attention. I think there are some forums. I mentioned the AFGC. Probably there are not as many yet, but don’t wait for it to be perfect, just reach out and take the initiative. And I’m sure someone will get back to you and help.
We also have some resources available on Sustainability Victoria’s CEBIC website. So if you go to cebic.vic.gov.au and look for the ‘Path to Half’ report, there’s opportunities where you can spend 10 minutes with an expert online and ask any questions that you might have. I know when I was setting up 3,000 Acres about 5 or 6 years ago, I did exactly that, Michele. I stalked people on LinkedIn and phoned them and asked them questions, and was just very opportunistic about reaching out and tapping into all of the knowledge that’s out there. So absolutely great advice. Don’t be afraid. Just go and ask people. They’d be very willing to help I’m sure. And you’ve got these wonderful guests that you might be able to reach out to as well.
Here’s a question for Michele.
Question: Big business has big money, and can afford to focus on zero waste. How can smaller or medium-sized business fund food waste solutions?
I think it’s a great question. And obviously in our waste journey we actually ended up saving money rather than investing. However I get the point. So for example we have our own factory in Australia. We actually just invested in a biodigester. Not many companies may have the resources to do that. First of all I heard about some grants here, so maybe that’s a good first step. So if there is a clear benefit in reducing waste, I think there are now funds available. But I would also encourage you to look at what your waste is actually costing you, and if you take that cost out, then eventually you actually have the resources that you need to invest in it. So maybe a business case is necessary, but if you really look at the overall process, you will see some benefits straight away without investing at all.
So benefits without spending a penny at all. And Project Zero as a solution for GM, did it cost a lot to implement that? I know you had benefits quite quickly, but the actual initial outlay, was that substantial?
No. So it was mainly resourced internally, in the sense that we put a multifunctional team together, so from a team point of view, and it was actually one of the easiest projects to resource, because there was a lot of engagement and excitement behind this project. It does require a bit of effort initially, and the amount of investment you want to put probably is going to dictate the speed of which you will deliver the benefits. So you can take your pace I guess. But trust me, there are lots of things that you can do fairly close to free of charge, and even when it comes to finding waste management solutions and recycling, it ends up costing less than disposing of your stock. So look at the financial really close, because I think there are opportunities there, even without investment.
I’ll just add something as well. So with our business, I mean we don’t want to be a disruptor. We want to work with current waste industry. And I think that will happen a lot more. So an idea, like ours, an insect farm might be a small idea, and people think well how am I going to get my waste to that farm, but we’re working with the industry. So there will be I expect, hopefully sooner than later, opportunities for waste to be taken from an individual business site to a place like us or another solution, not to landfill or those things. So I think there’s definitely ways you can look at reducing your waste or on-selling, such as Michele’s done with his business. But if you have waste – and I actually use the words ‘surplus food’, we learnt that in the food charity sector, ‘surplus food’ – then I think you realise that don’t feel bad, it’s not waste, because it could have a really great home that could make some really great value from it. So don’t feel that anything you’re not able to repurpose yourself is necessarily a bad thing.
And there’s lots of people out there that have created solutions that you might be able to tap in to already. Michele, you were talking about Yume. Can you just tell us a little bit about what that is and how it’s been helpful?
Yep. So we’ve been partnering with Yume for about 18 months, and Yume solved a really important problem for us, which was about finding an alternative sales channel. So as I said, we produce to sell, and thankfully we’re really good at that, but sometimes your demand fluctuates and you end up having a surplus of food. And what Yume does basically is it’s an online platform that can actually reach out to almost everyone, so can reach out to even consumers or customers that maybe they’re not immediate customers of ours. So it’s an alternative way for us to reach consumers that maybe we don’t reach at the moment, and it’s a splendid way to avoid obviously that food getting expired and moving to landfill. So they have been phenomenal. I think it’s a great company, great purpose, and we are very happy to work with them.
And it’s all online isn’t it, so it’s a bit like an eBay.
Exactly. Exactly. Food eBay.
And don’t forget that we also have grants available, Sustainability Victoria, on the CEBIC website. We’ll pop a link in to the chat. And we might take this next question from Mark.
Question: What are the biggest impacts of the 6 to fix in the food supply chain? How can business help reduce these?
So wow, that’s a big question to start with. So I think in milk. I’ll just use a couple of examples maybe just to answer that question. So in fresh milk, we know there are a range of technologies that can be applied in processing that can reduce food waste and extend shelf life. So we know there is one milk processor in Australia, Fonterra, that for example uses microfiltration when it produces its milk and packages it, and that tends to increase the shelf life. Because by the name, it’s actually taking out any impurities, that microfiltration, so it can extend the shelf life by anything from four to seven days. There are new technologies emerging now that have demonstration facilities in Australia. So one is super chilling. So this is taking a liquid food to a super critical temperature almost, and that has a way of just killing off all the bugs and making it a very pure food. And that can be applied to meat and to seafood and things like that as well. And then UV treatment of milk is something that’s just coming through. So UV has been used to treat waste water in a lot of countries for a while, and people are just starting to wake up to the fact that it’s actually a really good way of killing off bugs and pathogens and stuff like that in a number of foods.
So there’s looking at the technology angle, but there’s some really simple things that businesses can do. So some of it is around commercial arrangements. So one of the other benefits, if you can call it that, of COVID, has been that with the dramatic increase in demand for food from supermarkets, most of the major supermarkets, if not all of them, moved to what we call whole crop purchase. So they’re not just buying the grade A or the class A produce from a retailer. They’re buying it all, and they’re making sure that it’s used really intelligently. So they might use the class A as loose or packaged produce in the supermarket aisle. They might use the grade B and preprepared foods and meal kits, pizzas, pies, things like that, and then the grade C goes into things like soups and sauces. So we see there that there’s all sorts of opportunities that can be created by actually getting all of that 2 ¼ million tonnes of food out of the paddock that currently doesn’t make it out of the paddock and in to useful production. And whole crop purchase regimes really can change the economics and reduce the risk in the supply chain, but it also opens up opportunities for new businesses to come on board and utilise that material.
So just another example in produce, one of my favourite start-ups in the food waste space is called Rubies in the Rubble. And they basically started collecting fresh produce from street markets at the end of the day that would have just been chucked in the bin, and they converted that in to premium chutneys, preserves, sauces, barbecue sauces, mayonnaise, all sorts of different things. And that was really smart, because they had a very low cost ingredient stream that reduced food waste but created a premium product that then went on to be sold in really premium shops, like Harrods, Harvey Nicks and Waitrose. They’re now expanding their operations across Europe as well. So it’s just a great way of demonstrating the big idea, which is stop food waste, but don’t just think about food waste as a low value product, think about it as how you can develop a premium product range from it. And I just thought that was utterly brilliant the way they did that.
Fantastic. I like the name as well. We’ll take the next question from Shane.
Question: From a regional perspective, transport is a major cost. How can we overcome this? How can we get regional parties talking and working together, for example a food cluster?
That sounds like a good brief for a problem to solve to me. Anybody like to comment on that?
Just to clarify, he’s talking about the cost of transporting waste, I assume. If that’s the case, I mean there are a lot of solutions, such as ours and a lot of others, that are sort of able to be based in a lot of locations. So it’s not just about transporting everything to one massive biogas conversion $15 million facility. There are a lot of solutions that are small and can be agile and put in lots of different locations to not only reduce that transport – and that was obviously one of the goals that we had as well, considering especially with fruit and veg, you’re transporting water basically. So a lot of the solutions that are coming up in the food waste processing area are looking at exactly that, reducing the cost of transport, so being able to be positioned near waste streams, and also, especially in agriculture – I mean in rural areas you’ve got a lot of agriculture, so it’s almost better in regional areas, because the food waste can be changed in to agricultural products that can then go back in to the local community. So I wouldn’t necessarily think of being in rural areas or regional areas as a negative. I think they’ve got some really great advantages.
And Mark, would you like to add anything to that?
Yeah. So there is some really good research out there as well. So CSIRO published a report back in 2019 on fruit and vegetable losses pre-retail, and they basically nailed it. They have been able to pull together data on the whole primary production and primary processing picture, for I think it was 22 vegetable crops and 14 or so fruit crops. So they have been able to calculate the volume of material, so surplus or processing waste, that is available by production zone, and they’ve mapped it geospatially. So we’ve got a pretty good idea of where we need to locate things like insect farms or food transformation hubs based on that research for fresh produce. And I think collaboration, as Michele said, is absolutely critical here. We’ve found all over the world when we’re tackling food waste, you go further and you go faster when you collaborate.
And I just wanted to say a bit about what we’re going to be doing in Stop Food Waste Australia. So we’re now in month one of operation, but we are working with federal and state governments, including Sustainability Victoria and all the peak industry bodies in the food chain, and we’re going to be launching in June a new voluntary commitment program to reduce food waste, and at the heart of that is collaboration and innovation. So if you’re interested at all in finding out more about that, then please get in touch. But we believe that’s going to be a really powerful implementation vehicle in Australia to achieve that halving food waste target.
And that’s a wonderful segue in to our next question about collaboration from Ruannie.
Question: Can bigger companies share some of their infrastructure or equipment and learn with the broader community and smaller business? How can the food community work together instead of everybody reinventing the wheel?
I’ll start with you, Michele.
Yep. So for me the answer is yes. I think we most certainly can work together and start with share the learning. That’s part of the reason obviously why I was very happy to be here. I’m very happy to share and to follow up on sharing even more. Also I think the idea of sharing infrastructure is very smart, and to be honest, I wouldn’t see why not sharing resources for such a good cause. I don’t know whether there is at network already set up for that, but again, let’s not wait for it to be perfect. Reach out. If there is a company that is doing well in this platform and you want to share resources, reach out. I can definitely say from a General Mills point of view, we would be open to collaborate with a big or smaller company towards this cause. So working together – again, I’m just going to repeat what I said before, and Mark – I think is absolutely fundamental. We are all small in a way individually, but if we start working together, I think we can resolve a lot of problems around logistics, cost and also sharing capability. So my straight answer is yes to that.
I would suggest somebody takes him up on that offer. Would you like to add anything Mark to that question, delve a little bit deeper in to collaboration? Have you seen anything working really well elsewhere?
Yeah. So if I go back to an example I just briefly outlined earlier around taking that whole of supply chain view, I’ve seen some spectacular examples of what happens in terms of improving business performance, really improving business relationships as well. So I’ll give you one really, really quick example. We did this with the potato value chain, and we brought together all the farmers and growers, the pack houses, the wholesalers, the retailers and some consumer groups too, and the logistics guys. And we looked at it in a very different way. So just a couple of examples. Farmers will grow the varieties of potato that they see creating the highest yield. That’s just logic. That’s good business sense. But what they probably haven’t done is look at what that yield looks like by the time it gets to the supermarket shelf. And in some cases, some of those varieties outperform in food waste issues by up to 10% other varieties. So we discovered for example that King Edwards potatoes were less likely to green rot or root compared with other varieties.
And it also allows you to have some really open and honest conversations as well with your supply chain partners. So for example, we asked a particular retailer that was working with us on this why their product specification suggested that the optimum circumference of a potato was 45 millimetres. We had no idea why they’d set that. And they looked back and they saw this product specification that had been set in 1978. It had no agronomic or agricultural practice behind it, no consumer acceptability criteria. It was just a number. So we said well what’s that mean if we change that and if we change those grids in the pack house so that less of those potatoes are graded out and not eaten? We changed it by 2 millimetres, from 45 to 43 millimetres. That increased crop utilisation for the farmer by 5% overnight, and increased profitability in income by around $1,200 per hectare. You can only understand the nature of those sorts of problems and the solutions that come with them if you’ve got the whole supply chain in the room. So I’m a big fan of value chain collaboration, because having all of that expertise, actually understanding the impact and the implications of decisions that are being made at one point in the supply chain on the rest of the supply chain is a hugely powerful tool to have.
Wow. Doesn’t take much does it. We are just going to pause for a second to go to the results from our last polling question. If we could pop them up.
I forgot to ask you the polling question. Sorry. What is it?
So we’ve got the answers here. My ability to act on circular economy opportunities, including preventing food waste, has improved as a result of this event. Do you agree? We’ve got some answers. 66.7% of you do agree, so well done everyone. And only a few of you have answered, but please keep answering that question. We want to make sure that we are offering you value. And apologies for missing that Travis.
We’ll take one more question. Another one for Michele.
Question: Did GM find it challenging to take the first step? Did you have to convince anybody? Was a business case necessary for leadership, and who was the champion?
Great question. I think you got all the points right as well. So I think the challenge was to find the right visibility and understanding on where waste was coming from. So waste was just a number in our P and L (P&L) we sort of controlled, and in a way accepted, but when we actually got to really understand where it was coming from and that we could actually do something about it, then it became very easy actually to bring the business in and get the push behind it. You are absolutely right. So sustainability and supply chain were I would say the main drivers, just because supply chain has the understanding of the process and sustainability has obviously the drive to improve that. But I can really say the whole business is very much behind this, and if it’s not that way, I don’t think it’s going to work. So it wasn’t that challenging in the end.
Thank you. We’re reaching the closing minutes of our event. I’ll take a moment to thank you all very much. Do you have any closing comments? Is there anything that you’d like to say that you haven’t managed to say yet?
It’s great to have events like this, and it’s great to see so many people wanting to help solve the problem, or as I said, find alternative solutions for the surplus food.
Yes. That’s right.
Same. Thank you for having us. I think it’s great to share. My closing point is just take action as we did. Take a leap, even if you’re not sure you’re going to achieve that zero of the waste. Take action, because I think you’ll get surprised.
And Mark, anything you’d like to finish up with?
I’d say for those that haven’t read it, have a look at the ‘Path to Half’ report, and particularly look at the 25 interventions that can be deployed to reduce food waste, because they’re very insightful. And they’ve been prioritised for you already in terms of the impact they’re likely to have.
Thank you all so much. It was really informative and wonderful to have you here, so thank you for your time. Thank you all for joining us today. Where to from here? We are in a wonderful position where there’s the ability to take positive action by applying for grants on the CEBIC website. So all information about those grants can be found at CEBIC – that’s the Circular Economy Business Innovation Centre – cebic.vic.gov.au. And there are a few current opportunities open right now. One is the business support fund, with applications open until the 12th
of March, and funding is available from $75,000 to $1 million. We also have businesses, charities, not for profit sector, industry groups, associations and consultants are all able to apply for that. And we also have the business innovation fund. Applications are open until the 15th of February, so you better get your skates on for that one. $75,000 to $450,000 open to businesses, charities, industry groups and associations and research institutions. So some fantastic opportunities. If you’re interested in those, reach out to SV with any questions you might have, Sustainability Victoria.
Upcoming events. There’s the Business Support Fund Information Session. So for those of you who are asking questions about what do we do, is there mentors available, how do we start, a great thing would be to come along to that, Tuesday the 16th
of February at 10:00 am. And then there’s some workshops for the different types of grants. So Stream 1 application workshop is Wednesday the 24th
of February at 10:00 am. Stream 2, the Implementation grants application workshop, Thursday 25th of February at 10:00 am.
Again, just visit the website, cebic.vic.gov.au. And thank you so much for your time today. It was a great chat. I learnt a lot. I feel very inspired to start a business now. Hope you do too. Thank you.
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