August 9, 2021

Consumer Expectations for the Sustainable Food Practices

Sustainability has become a central factor driving the choices for many consumers as to where they spend their money. This makes sustainability an increasingly central value for businesses of all types and has affected the food production and service sectors. Farm to table movements, farmers markets, and food donation trends have exploded in popularity as consumers shift to supporting local economies while benefiting from more organic and locally sourced food.

As sustainability has become more mainstream, awareness is also growing around the environmental stewardship of food products. This attention extends from the growth and production of the food, the production of materials and their packaging, the emissions generated during the transportation of food, and to the disposal of waste food. For commercial producers and processors of food, this means taking a closer look at opportunities to reduce waste at every stage of the life cycle of the foods. While there has been a focus for some time on eating more organic, sustainably produced food, consumers are increasingly asking about disposal of food waste too. 

For many food providers, disposal is the biggest challenge to address sustainably. This is because about 6% to 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans can be attributed to waste food, according to the World Wildlife Federation. Even many of the disposal options that eliminate the emissions associated with food waste carry an added cost. On-site biodigesters, however, can help many food providers reduce many of the emissions associated with food waste with minimal investment. 

A holistic approach to sustainability

Demonstrating a sustainable life cycle for food begins with taking a holistic look at food’s journey from production through disposal and identifying the opportunities for making more sustainable choices. These opportunities include: 

    • Food production: Purchasing from farms that practice regenerative farming processes and reducing purchases of meat because raising livestock is a leading contributor to pollution. 
    • Transport and distribution: Buying local food to reduce the emissions created during transport. 
    • Food storage and preparation: Purchasing produce when needed to reduce spoilage and reevaluating the sustainability of food packaging. 
    • Food serving: Auditing portion sizes to identify opportunities for reducing waste. 
    • Waste disposal: Cease sending waste food to a landfill. This is because organic material sent to a landfill decomposes anaerobically, producing methane (CH4) that is 84 times worse for global warming than carbon dioxide (CO2). 

Increasingly, organizations are recognizing that consumers and sustainability are an ideal match. While there’s been some past research to indicate that not all consumers who report positive attitudes toward eco-friendly products actually follow through with their purchasing decisions, that stands poised to change. Generation Z in particular—the fastest-growing consumer segment with a buying power of more than $140 billion—prioritizes spending on healthy, local food. The so-called Sustainability Generation, as well as like-minded Millennials, are concerned with food waste and sustainably produced food and packaging. 

Businesses that can demonstrate a fully sustainable food life cycle are more likely to command a stronger share of consumer spending. This will be an increasingly important consideration going forward, and organizations that take steps today to prioritize sustainability will set themselves up for future success. 

A cost case for sustainability

While balancing appeal to consumers and sustainability and costs may seem daunting, businesses that take a holistic view tend to find that sustainable practices can be more popular and cost-effective in the long run. For example, many restaurants are making the switch away from plastic straws. Between their small size and the sheer number of straws used, these single-use plastics frequently escape landfills and are found in the wild where they can be ingested by animals. There’s a definite sustainability case for eliminating plastic straws from the menu, but there are also immediate cost savings in eliminating the purchase of straws from a restaurant’s budget. Replacing this regular cost with a one-time investment in stainless steel or bamboo alternatives can prove cost-effective in the long run. 

Food sustainability audits can help organizations identify opportunities for reducing purchasing or identifying other ways to reduce the cost of waste. However, there is only so much adjustment that can be made to procurement when it comes to big food purchasers such as restaurants, schools and universities, hospitals and long-term care facilities, and the like. Waste becomes an unavoidable part of these business practices—so opportunities for waste recovery presents a tremendous cost-saving opportunity.

Disposal opportunities include donating leftover food to nonprofit organizations and disposing of food waste onsite through composting or an onsite biodigester. Among these solutions, the latter option also reduces the cost of transporting waste to an offsite disposal facility. 

An onsite biodigester can be a tremendous asset in diverting food waste from landfills as it requires no added cost or interruption of processes to dispose of waste. The equipment can be installed onsite in a kitchen or other area where food is prepared so that staff need only open the lid to the machine and slide the food waste in. There is no need to spend money on garbage bags, specialty hauling services, or added labor. With the help of microorganisms, the biodigester emits only grey water that can be disposed of down the drain. This simple step also diverts methane and other smelly gasses that are produced by decomposing food from the landfill. Methane contributes greatly to our climate crisis because it is 87 times worse for the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. No methane is generated from the aerobic digestion process of an onsite biodigester.

When it comes to exceeding customer’s expectations for sustainability, Power Knot’s LFC biodigester has proven to be the sustainable choice for the diversion of food waste from landfills. What’s more, our best-in-class organic waste digesters pay for themselves in under three years. If you’re ready to position your organization more sustainably, contact Power Knot today.

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