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Food waste is a major global problem that is yet to be resolved. Food producers face a challenge where expiring food results in wastage and financial losses. While production across virtually all industries has adopted modern technologies, the digital economy may offer additional mechanisms for businesses to cut costs associated with food waste management. However, the most important concern is sustainability and the pursuit of sustainable development goals (SDGs). Reduction of food waste can fall under the SDG of sustainable consumption and production patterns where manufacturers adopt methodologies and approaches that help in achieving sustainability. This paper focuses on proposing a solution for reducing food waste by creating a platform for selling expiring food.
The United Nations (UN) formulated the SDGs to help countries achieve sustainability. According to Bengston et al. (2018, p. 1533), the SDGs were created in 2015 to serve as a comprehensive global framework for solving environmental and social problems. Goal 12 of the SGDs seeks to ensure sustainable consumption and production pattern, whose main focus is on the efficient use of resources. Such scholars as Borrello et al. (2017, p. 1) express that the current linear production and consumption systems are unsustainable, especially in the food sector. The argument is that food residues of waste are produced across the entire supply chain, which means that the resources in agriculture and food production are not used efficiently. In the last 50 years, the demand for food has tripled to reach a point where consumption by humans is estimated at 30% higher than the capacity of the planet to regenerate (Govindan, 2018, p. 419). A more conservative approach is needed to save the planet and its current and future populations.
A critical examination of goal 12 of the SDGs reveals that humans are responsible for conservation efforts. Production should not exceed the rate of regeneration because most of the resources are non-renewable. In food production, massive amounts of water and chemicals are required, which presents a major environmental impact. The carbon footprint in food production is high, and efficiency is the only means of addressing this problem. The food wasted due to expiry and other practices in such sectors as supermarkets and restaurants is the best example of inefficiency. Therefore, sustainable production and consumption in the food production industry should be reflected in food waste reduction practices.
Summary of Solution
The proposed solution is to reduce food waste by creating a platform for selling expiring food. Such a platform reflects the functionalities of the digital economy, especially where the information and communication technologies (ICTs) form the core infrastructure for the business models. The created platform may also mirror several aspects of the digital economy, including the sharing economy. According to Falcone and Imbert (2017, p. 199), the sharing economy depends on the ICT to link consumers’ needs to the economic activities shared by the customers. The food waste problem can be solved when the excess food can be shared or redistributed to other people in need. However, to make it a complete sharing economy, the excess food is sold at reasonable prices to ensure it is all consumed and that none is wasted.
The most important point to note is that the platform’s main focus is to sell expiring food. The keyword is ‘expiring,’ which should be interpreted as the food nearing its expiry date. Stores and other food-serving entities experience critical challenges of food expiring and being disposed of. For example, Sakaguchi, Pak, and Potts (2018, p. 430) explain that about 14% of the restaurants surveyed dump their food in landfill bins. It can be understood that demand fluctuates, and current stocks may be higher than the expected demand. Therefore, the online platform searches for buyers a few days before the actual expiry date. The prices may be discounted to facilitate easy and quick sales, but the most important intention is that the poor people in the society can access cheaper food. The platform can also work with agencies and bodies that help certain vulnerable groups, including the homeless and orphans. Such institutions face shortages in the financing, and an opportunity for cheap food supplies should be an ideal proposition.
It is also important to express that the expiring food may not necessarily be targeted for human consumption. This is because there are opportunities for recycling, especially by such people as farmers breeding pork, poultry, or other livestock that can use the waste food. The main idea is that the food should not be dumped in landfill bins, but it should be used for productive economic activity. The most appealing proposition is that if the food can be sold before expiry, it can get to humans as previously intended, which means that the DG goal of sustainable production and consumption is met.
Food waste is a problem that brings together diverse stakeholders, including businesses and the government. The proposed digital platform will also face the same situation. The key stakeholders include the government, firms in the food production industry, and the consumers. The role of the state in the digital economy has been expressed by Hanna (2018, p. 1), who explains that investments in digital technologies often cause such challenges as the need for new policies and new roles for the institutions. However, the main issue with this stakeholder will be to monitor that the new platform meets all regulatory standards and that the business practices do not harm the environment or the consumers. The keyword ‘expiring food’ needs to be used carefully because the government is keen on controlling food quality. Therefore, following the right legal and regulatory procedures and protocols is the best way to engage with the government.
The food producers are also key stakeholders because they serve as the key suppliers. The best way to engage with them is by offering them the opportunity to cut their losses by disposing of the excess food stocks that will be discarded upon expiry. These are sensitive stakeholders because the focus of any business is to make a profit. Therefore, selling expiring food may seem to be an opportunity to reduce losses and food waste, but could also see rogue firms supplying food that has already expired. The best way to engage businesses is by requiring strict standards to be followed. Lastly, the consumers will be the ones to purchase the products. Again, the term expiring food does not appeal to this group of stakeholders who needs to be assured that the food is safe. The best approach to these stakeholders is proper communication and public relations to create the necessary assurances.
Several ethical issues can emerge from the proposed platform and the nature of the business model. Such scholars as Garcia-Garcia et al. (2017, p. 2213) express that in food waste management, ethical issues may include the resale or redistribution of lower quality or even inedible products. The platform sells expiring food, which means that the food is close to spoiling. Therefore, the platform needs to observe strict ethical standards to make sure that only the right products are sold. Additionally, the platform could also face a situation where the descriptions regarding the quality and health standards of the products are misrepresented. Selling expiring foods may not be the name or description given to the business. Therefore, the marketing practices for these products could involve misinformation and misrepresentation.
The second ethical consideration emanates from the use of digital technologies, which form the backbone of the platform. Ethics in the digital economy has been highlighted by Etter, Fieseler, and Whelan (2019), which includes the use of information and other such challenges as privacy, property rights, and consumer protection. In a digital economy, it is difficult to enforce regulations related to the protection of people and their privacy. Therefore, businesses are often required to implement and comply with their own ethical standard.
The success of the platform depends on the ability to obtain products and sell them to consumers before expiry. Alternatively, expired food products need to be sold before the spoilage affects their use. Regardless of the approach, the first practice recommendation is to find sustainable and consistent markets for the products. As explained earlier, organizations dealing with such populations as the homeless may require cheap supplies, which makes them ideal clients. However, the organizations need to get the food to the consumers as soon as possible before the actual expiry. The second practice recommendation is that there should be proper communication with stakeholders. The rationale is that the nature of the business is sensitive where ‘expiring’ and ‘expired’ could be confused. Therefore, communication makes it possible to make clarifications and create an understanding across all stakeholders. If the platform deals with organizations serving certain populations, they should be given adequate time to distribute the food.
The paper has proposed a solution to the food waste problem in the form of a platform for selling expiring food. Several issues have been addressed, including how to define the products and engage stakeholders to make the proposition a success. In the recommended practice, proper communication and making sure food does not expire before reaching consumers have been highlighted as the key issues to address.
Bengston, M. et al. (2018) ‘Transforming systems of consumption and production for achieving the sustainable development goals: moving beyond efficiency’, Sustainability Science, 13(6), pp. 1533-1547.
Borrello, M. et al. (2017) ‘Consumers’ perspective on circular economy strategy for reducing food waste’, Sustainability, 9(1), pp. 1-18.
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Etter, M., Fieseler, C. and Whelan, G. (2019) ‘Sharing economy, sharing responsibility? corporate social responsibility in the digital age’, Journal of Business Ethics, 159, pp. 935-942.
Falcone, P. and Imbert, E. (2017) ‘Bringing a sharing economy approach into the food sector’, In Marone, P., Papendiek F. and V. Tartiu (eds.) food waste reduction and valorization. New York: Springer International Publishing AG, pp. 197-214.
Garcia-Garcia, G. et al. (2017) ‘A methodology for sustainable management of food waste’, Waste and Biomass Valorization, 8, pp. 2209-2227.
Govindan, K. (2018) ‘Sustainable consumption and production in the food supply chain: a conceptual framework’, International Journal of Production Economics, 195, pp. 419-431.
Hanna, N. (2018) ‘A role for the state in the digital age’, Journal of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, 7(1), pp. 1-16.
Sakaguchi, L., Pak, N. and Potts, M. (2018) ‘Tackling the issue of food waste in restaurants: options for measurement method, reduction and behavioral change’, Journal of Cleaner Production, 180(327), pp. 430-436.