Reducing Emissions by Reducing Agricultural Waste – Starting with Apple-Monitoring Tech

Three years ago Strella Biotechnology launched to "try to reduce waste in the U.S. food system — a problem that by some estimates creates as much emissions as 33 million passenger vehicles," reports the Washington Post. Alternate URL here and here.) And today the founder's warehouse-monitoring device — about half the size of a shoebox — watches over about 15% of all the apples grown in America: Already, agriculture contributes more to greenhouse gas emissions than the total of all the cars, planes, trains and trucks in the world. The pressure to grow more food is leading to deforestation in the Amazon, the drying up of rivers and a greater demand for fossil fuel-based fertilizer. Anything that can be done to reduce waste and increase the productivity of existing agricultural land is a big win for the climate. [Strella CEO and founder] Sizov, 24, wants to eliminate food waste one fruit at a time... Sizov chanced upon a website that described the climate impact of food waste — up to 4% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to analyses from ReFed, a nonprofit organization that works to reduce food waste... The problem will only intensify as the global population grows, experts say. By 2050, the United Nations expects there will be another 2 billion mouths to feed around the world, an increase of more than 25% in just three decades. And as countries such as China and India grow richer, their populations are gradually changing their eating habits: more meat, more eggs — and a bigger carbon footprint tied to raising all of those animals and clearing off land to grow more food. "If you reduce food loss and waste by 50%, you can save a lot of production emissions, but you can also avoid a heck of a lot of deforestation," said Tim Searchinger, a senior research scholar at Princeton University's Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment. Searchinger explained that after accounting for the fact that an acre of farmland could otherwise be an acre of forest, the carbon footprint of food skyrockets as trees soak up so much carbon dioxide. Eliminating waste also happens to be a way to help farmers and grocery stores earn more money, since the more efficiently food makes it to consumers, the more cash ends up with the people who've done the selling... [T]hat's where Strella's sensors come in. They monitor ethylene, a gas key to the ripening of fruits and vegetables. Apples accelerate their production of ethylene as they grow sweeter inside the storerooms. Once they're ready, the gas levels off, telling Strella's monitors that they're ready to be sent to supermarkets. Wait too long and the apples turn brown or grow mealy. If producers are lucky, they can try to break even by turning those apples into juice or applesauce. If they're unlucky, the overripe apples end up in compost or landfills. Ultimately one out of every five apples doesn't make it from the warehouse to the supermarket, the Post points out (while some others lose their crunch). So Sizov hopes their waste-reducing technology will catch on because it's also a way to reduce business losses. "There's a direct alignment of a sustainable goal with a profitability incentive."

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