Avocados can be tricky. Their ripening window is so narrow that many memes mock the ability to decide when to eat them.
Dutch entrepreneur Marco Snikkers aims to solve this problem with an avocado scanner presented this week at the CES technology show in Las Vegas, designed for use in supermarkets.
Optical measurement and AI technology determine ripeness, showing on the screen whether the avocado is firm or ready to eat.
Snikkers’ startup, OneThird, isn’t just trying to reduce frustration in the kitchen. According to the United Nations, about a third of the food is lost in the world. This means that all the carbon released to grow, ship and distribute that food is wasted.
“It’s a huge problem,” Snikkers said. “It’s a trillion-dollar problem for our world and has huge implications for C02 emissions and water use.”
OneThird is one of several startups at this year’s CES that are working to solve different aspects of the problem, from helping the food industry limit waste to offering a quick composting solution to help keep food scraps out of methane-producing landfills.
OneThird is already working with growers, retailers and others in the supply chain to predict the shelf life of avocados, tomatoes, strawberries and blueberries. It will further expand its ability to determine the ripeness of more crops later this year, aiming to reduce the amount of food lost worldwide. And testing the avocado scanner for customers in a supermarket in Canada this month.
Another Dutch entrepreneur, Olaf van der Veen, is working to empower restaurants to reduce food waste, most of which occurs in the kitchen before serving food to customers.
His device, Orbisk, uses a camera mounted on top of a trash can to see what food is about to be thrown away. In addition to seeing the type of food, the quantity and the time of day, “we can see if it’s on the plate, in the pot, on the board, which gives information about why it was lost,” said van der Veen.
Orbisk organizes and shares this idea with restaurants so that they can understand their disposal methods, helping them to save money and reduce food waste, and with it, the release and use of water.
The startup’s equipment is installed in commercial kitchens in about 10 European countries, with some customers as far away as India.
He said that even after giving away surplus food, there is more food waste per restaurant in the United States than in Europe. That’s why the company is at CES, he said, and hopes to further expand into emerging markets.
Reducing the amount of food wasted is preferable, but keeping food out of landfills is the next best option.
When food particles are properly processed, they release carbon dioxide as part of the biological process of turning them into nutrient-rich soil. When food gets trapped in landfills, the decomposition process produces methane – a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes significantly to global warming because it packs a stronger punch over a shorter period of time. 80 times more than carbon dioxide.
The 2006 London Protocol banned the dumping of food waste in the sea, prompting South Korea to establish a mandatory composting system. Although the infrastructure allows the country to properly dispose of all food waste, residents must carry bags of food to designated waste bins.
Reencle is designed to facilitate this process. The metal bin is a high-speed composting system unveiled at this year’s CES, and it helps households reduce a pound of food scraps by 90 percent in just 24 hours.
While the product has sold tens of thousands of units in South Korea, Reencle’s parent company, Hanmi Flexible, hopes to expand into overseas markets, said marketing director Jinhwi Bang.
How fast is it? The device uses self-producing microorganisms to turn the waste into compost. Its competitor, Lomi, grinds and digests food scraps, so the residue needs to be mixed with soil before composting, while Reencle says it can be composted directly.
Mark Murray, Executive Director of Californians Against Waste, said he hopes people don’t think high technology is necessary to compost.
But he said he understands that not everyone has a yard or patio, and “every tool in the box should be on the table.”
Technology is part of the solution. But Murray says economic incentives and structural change are the other key factors in reducing global food waste.
“Food needs to be more expensive,” he said. “This will create an incentive for commercial enterprises, for restaurants, shops, for consumers to invest in systems and technology to ensure that we do not waste food.”