By: Karen Diep
Recently, I took a trip to Japan that took me through eight cities and a countless number of temples. From this trip, I learned that Japan’s busy lifestyle demands convenience in almost every aspect of the people’s daily lives. This requires most meals to be quick, easy, and of course tasty. This got me thinking, where does all of this trash go? Much emphasis has been placed on the Western countries’ contribution to the world’s food waste (1.3 billion tonnes total worldwide according to the FAO), but Japan is no exception.
Japan, along with the United States and Great Britain are the top three on the list of the world’s largest contributors to food waste. In 2010 alone, Japan threw away approximately 18 million tonnes of food with 5 to 8 million tonnes of the discarded food waste considered as still edible at the time they were thrown away. This is an especially critical issue since a significant amount of the country’s food supply comes from its own domestic farming and manufacturing. Japan has found many ways to combat this looming issue and has done so with solutions that encourage business development along the process.
Food Recycling Law and the “Recycling Loop”
Japan has created many measures to reduce food waste, their most successful measures comes from the a law enacted in 2001 called the Promotion of Utilization of Recyclable Food Waste Act, or also known as the “Food Recycling Law.” This law encouraged businesses to create cyclical manufacturing processes that would reduce food waste, reuse their food waste, and recycle any leftover waste (the 3 R’s: reduce, reuse, and recycle). A revision in 2007 promoted businesses to turn their waste into compost or animal feed. They also encouraged businesses to purchase crops grown by farmers using waste-derived product such as animal feed and compost. This process created “recycling loops” in the industry.
The recycling loops generated less Greenhouse Gas emissions and increased the economic effectiveness due to the waste disposal process.
An Example of a Recycling Loop
The supermarket chain, Uny Co. Ltd, found a way to utilize the recycling loop most effectively. Their food waste is collected by the recycling business Sanko Ltd. Sanko takes the waste and manufactures fertilizer that is then used by the farmers who use this fertilizer to grow crops, raise fish, and work in the forestry. These crops are in turn purchased by Uny to sell at their supermarket chains.
Eco -towns and Self-Sufficiency
Tokyo also started a Tokyo Super Eco-Town Project. In this, companies were invited to take part in a larger recycling process based on the idea of the 3 R’s. In this project, Alfo Ltd. uses cooking oil to deep-fry business related food waste. This in turns sterilizes it and dries it to produce a product used for animal feed.
Japan made a commitment to increase its self-sufficiency when it realized that its animal feed relied on imports outside of the country. It made a goal of increasing its self-sufficiency from 26 to 38% by 2020 from its recycling loops for animal feed. By doing so, the country has been able to lessen the need for imports and emphasize more on domestic product. Moreover, domestically raised livestock fed with imported feed were not considered as domestic in origin. This allowed the agriculture industry to increase it rate in self-sufficiency for both livestock and imports.
Weather and the Looming AI Takeover
Weather is a huge contributor to the efficiency, or lack thereof, in a food chain. The Japan Weather Association estimated that over 30% of industries are impacted by weather related risks. It has provided a solution that uses an artificial intelligence system that will track the weather and analyze sales data and other factors to project consumer trends. By doing so, companies can predict surpluses and excesses in inventory and have the ability to scale back production when necessary.
This research project has focused on several products including cold ramen sauce, tofu, coffee, and carbonated drinks from Mizkan holdings, Sagamiya Foods, Nestle Japan, and Pokka Sapporo Food & Beverage, respectively. Other retailers such as Lawson have also provided their sales data to help with this project. From this research, it predicted that would be able to reduce food waste for these companies by 40% in noodle sauce and 30% in tofu.
The system also looked to twitter to analyze consumer trends in Twitter. Weather greatly affects our shopping needs and wants. A hot humid day may call for ice cream but could be avoided on a rainy, cold one. The AI is able to track these trends and determine consumer needs according to the weather changes.
Although the technology is still premature and lacks enough data to make precise predictions, the concept is fairly sound. By being able to predict weather patterns in accordance to consumer habits, companies can have a stronger food supply chain that will distribute just the right amount of food to people who will be happy to eat it!
Japan is one of many countries seeking ways to solutions to reduce their food waste. Their determination to increase business productivity while decreasing Greenhouse Gas emissions is quite admirable and the self-sufficiency they’ve gained along the process is something many other countries should strive for. While 18 million tonnes is a long way to go, Japan has made significant strides to resolve their food waste woes by incorporating a social, business, and environmental mindset to their solutions.
Read more on Japan’s Food Waste:
Fighting Food Loss and Food Waste in Japan, Federica Marra: http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/save-food/PDF/FFLFW_in_Japan.pdf
Food Waste in Japan: How Eco-Towns and Recycling Loops are Encouraging Self-Sufficiency, Federica Marra; http://foodtank.com/news/2013/11/food-waste-in-japan-how-eco-towns-and-recycling-loops-are-encouraging-self
AI could solve Japan’s food waste problem, Kazuki Nagoya; http://asia.nikkei.com/magazine/20160428-Commodities-crucible/Tech-Science/AI-could-solve-Japan-s-food-waste-problem?page=1
Tokyo Super Eco Town Project Outline, Tokyo Metropolitan Government; https://www.kankyo.metro.tokyo.jp/en/attachement/super_eco_town.pdf