SEATTLE, Washington — According to the U.N. Environmental Programme, a third of the total amount of food created for human consumption goes to waste annually. Fruits and vegetables “have the highest wastage rates” with almost 25% of fruits and vegetables wasted globally. Food waste has become an increasingly severe crisis around the world, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic creates further barriers to food access. Apeel, a food science startup, aims to greatly reduce food waste globally through its ground-breaking, produce-coating preservative technology.
Food Waste: The Problem
The amount of food wasted globally each year equates to approximately 1.3 billion tons, an economic loss of about $1 trillion. According to the World Food Programme, the amount of food wasted each year “would be sufficient to feed two billion people” — a figure that is more than double “the number of undernourished” individuals globally. As the World Food Programme describes, overall food loss is one of the “root causes of hunger worldwide,” especially as food loss wastes resources such as “land, water and energy.” The World Health Organization describes poverty as greatly amplifying one’s risk of malnutrition, reporting that malnutrition “increases healthcare costs, reduces productivity and slows economic growth,” creating a cycle where those living in poverty face ill-health from malnutrition and a lack of food access.
Reducing food waste is one of the U.N. 17 Sustainable Development Goals, as the U.N. aims to reduce by 50% “global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains” by 2030. As the world sets goals and searches for solutions to end the extensive food waste crisis, the startup Apeel focuses on a specific solution to the global problem.
Apeel Provides a New Solution
Founded in 2012 with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Apeel is a California-based food waste startup company. With funding from the World Bank and individual celebrity donors such as Katy Perry and Oprah Winfrey, Apeel has developed a new preservative coating for perishable produce such as avocados, limes and apples.
Apeel’s new preservative “coating doubles the ripeness window of avocados” and is now used by Costco along with other citrus and asparagus suppliers. Apeel’s coating solution expands on the naturally occurring substance of cutin, a polymer made of fatty acids, creating a moisture-containing seal around plants. The preserving solution uses lipids found in the cutin to develop a film which “locks in moisture and repels oxygen” to protect produce from degradation. This substance is either sprayed directly onto the produce or the fruit or vegetable is dipped into the solution. According to Apeel, opting for an avocado with an Apeel coating is the environmental equivalent of conserving “up to four gallons of water” and preserving enough power “to charge a smartphone five times.”
Apeel’s innovative produce-preserving coating is currently used at U.S. stores such as Kroger and Harps and is expanding in Europe with Denmark’s Salling Group and in Germany’s Edeka stores. Apeel’s technology is in even higher demand during the COVID-19 crisis as food insecurity has surged globally. Apeel recently raised funding for farm-based programs at the domestic level, with an overall goal of reducing food loss for those who lack access to refrigeration. As CNBC reports, Apeel’s new programs will create supply chains in “sub-Saharan Africa, Mexico, Central and South America and Southeast Asia.”
Reducing Global Poverty
Apeel aims to improve local food supply chains by helping both smaller-scale farms and larger producers preserve their produce and create new markets for otherwise wasted food. Apeel’s new technology has the potential to play an extremely significant role in ending food waste, and therefore, works to alleviate hunger and poverty around the globe.
Overall, Apeel’s innovative coating technology has the potential to transform the global food waste crisis as the company expands globally. As the U.N. reports, if the world could preserve one-fourth of the food lost globally, 870 million hungry individuals would no longer face food insecurity. Apeel provides hope and a strong solution to the increasingly severe food waste crisis and, by extension, contributes to the fight against poverty and hunger worldwide.
– Lillian Ellis