Another target of AI: food waste | Trending Viral hub


A hotel chain installs a camera in its garbage containers to spy on what guests throw away. Turns out the breakfast croissants are too big. Many are going to waste, along with the profits.

A supermarket may suddenly see, hidden in its own sales data, that yellow onions are not selling as quickly as red onions and are more likely to end up in the trash.

The brain behind both efforts: artificial intelligence.

It’s part of an emerging industry that’s trying to capitalize on a senseless human problem: the huge amounts of uneaten food going from supermarkets and restaurants to the trash bin. Much of that, if not composted, ends up in landfills where it decomposes, sending powerful planet-warming greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Enter a new business opportunity. A company called Winnow has developed an artificial intelligence tool that spies on restaurant trash. Another company, Afresh, analyzes supermarket data to look for unnecessary mismatches between what a store offers and what people buy.

AI has its own dirty environmental footprint. Processing large amounts of data requires huge amounts of electricity. AI also cannot (yet) alter what the human brain expects in modern industrial societies: an abundance of fresh avocados in the supermarket year-round, an ever-growing variety of small plastic yogurt cups, trays full of nachos at happy hour. menus.

The two companies are part of an emerging industry trying to address a problem created by the modern food industry. In the U.S, one third of the food grown is never eaten.

Worldwide, One billion metric tons of food will be wasted in 2022, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. Food waste represents Between 8 and 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.approximately equal to emissions from aviation and shipping combined.

“It’s a problem that literally disappears,” said Marc Zornes, founder of Winnow, which works with restaurants, hotels and institutional caterers.

Compounding the problem, there are confusing “best before” and “sell by” labels on food products that result in perfectly edible foods ending up in the trash.

Signs of progress are emerging from a group of supermarket chains that have voluntarily committed to reducing food waste in their operations in the western United States and Canada. Between 2019 and 2022, the eight chains that are part of the Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment project reported a 25 percent decrease in its total unsold food volumes.

They also reported donating more food to charities and sending more waste to composting facilities, which are in short supply, rather than landfills.

“It shows that the national goal of halving food waste by 2030 may, in fact, be possible, but we would need dramatically more action across all sectors of the food system to make that happen.” said Dana Gunders, director of Refed, a research and advocacy group that tracks data from the voluntary project.

There are many new tools today to help retailers reduce waste. Some startups, like Apeel and Mori, offer coatings for fresh produce so it doesn’t spoil as quickly. An app called Flash Food connects customers with discounted food at grocery stores, similar to Too good to gothat connects customers with restaurants and grocery stores that sell excess food at a discount.

Afresh’s technology processes about six years of sales data for each product in the fresh food section of a grocery store it works with. Its artificial intelligence tool can guess when people buy avocados and at what price. You can combine that with data on how quickly avocados spoil and, in turn, advise how many avocados to store.

If the Easter egg-painting season traditionally generates more egg sales, you can calculate how many more boxes of eggs the store should order and also how many more bell peppers because shoppers often make omelets with leftover eggs at home.

While an experienced store manager would probably know this, said Matt Schwartz, co-founder of Afresh, AI would offer more accurate information on many more products. He might recommend, for example, that the store manager order 105 boxes of eggs the week before Easter, instead of 110. “Every case matters,” he said.

Additionally, said Suzanne Long, chief sustainability officer at Albertson’s, which uses Afresh technology, experienced store managers are increasingly rare. “What AI does is give us precision. Not just ‘I need to order onion’ but ‘this type of onion,’” she said.

Long said the chain has reduced food waste, but declined to say by how much.

Winnow installs cameras above trash bins in restaurant kitchens. The images are fed into an algorithm that can distinguish between half a portion of lasagna (valuable) and a banana peel (not so much). A group of Hilton hotels that implemented the tool recently discovered that many of their breakfast pastries were too large and also that baked beans were commonly left unfinished.

Refed, the research group, found in its 2022 estimates that 70 percent of food wasted in restaurants is food left on the plate, indicating the need to reconsider portion sizes.

Mr. Zornes works mainly with hotels and cafes. He estimates that restaurants waste between 5 and 15 percent of the food they buy. “This is an obvious problem that everyone knows about,” Zornes said. “It’s clearly a problem we’re not solving.”


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