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New York’s answer to food waste

According to the World Food Programme an average household wastes a staggering US$1,600 of food every year, with around one-third of all food worldwide never eaten. When globally more than 811 million are malnourished, hunger levels are rising – as the most recent State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report revealed, and the population is predicted to hit nearly 10 billion by the middle of the century, up from 7.7 billion today, the chronic inefficiencies creating mountains of food waste cannot be allowed to continue.

Governments, industry, communities and innovators are all well aware of the crisis and are actively responding with new solutions, technologies and better education focussed on putting a stop to run away levels of food waste.

Our ‘secret sauce’ is how we biologically use a process to basically take the food waste and turn it into a water-soluble format.

Tinia Pina 

One of the pioneers making a big impact is Tinia Pina, my guest today on Inside Ideas, who founded Re-Nuble to advance her mission of improving local food production in New York. Witnessing firsthand the lack of healthy food options available to students, while volunteering as an SAT-prep teacher in the Big Apple in 2012, Tina saw the way it limited students’ productivity, and in the process, their prospects for the future.

My immediate personal observation was realising that what these kids were eating was really having an impact on the information they were retaining and their productivity and that’s directly tied to me seeing highly processed, not nutritionally dense or fresh food options,” Tina said. “As a vegetarian I know how critical nutritional availability and access really is for how often I get sick, how much energy I have, and how much longer of my days I am able to sustain.”

Tinia also knew New York was spending ‘$77 million to export food waste to China, Pennsylvania and Virginia’ and that rising population numbers, as well as an increase in the number of people living in urban areas, was going to heap further pressure on already broken systems. Her next thought was ‘how can we take this growing food waste stream, to enable more farms, whether soil farms or indoor farms, to grow less chemically-laden food?’. Which for Tinia would ideally lead to the production of more organically certifiable food. 

Because where many just saw waste that needed to be sent as far away as possible, Tinia saw a valuable resource that could catalyse sustainable food systems within sprawling cities suffering from poor nutrition and poor policy decisions. Studying Environmental Conservation and Sustainability at Columbia University’s Earth Institute and volunteering at various community urban farms gave Tinia the experience and knowledge to do something about it. And Re-Nuble, which grew out of this vision to ‘redefine waste’ in urban communities, is now a social enterprise that is transforming wasteful habits worldwide.

Closed loop

Re-Nuble’s products enable a closed loop process where waste that would otherwise be landfilled or incinerated is transformed, using the tools of science and technology, into nutrients that allow indoor farms and agriculture to thrive.

Tinia explains: “Our ‘secret sauce’ is how we biologically use a process to basically take the food waste and turn it into a water-soluble format. When someone says water soluble that means as soon as the plant receives that nutrient, whether it is in powdered form or liquid, the plant can immediately absorb it as nutrients.”

What is important to Tinia is making these types of solutions easily available to growers.

“For me I think the future is helping farms and sharing the access to the technology, and the research and the awareness of making these farms adaptable to drought and also increasing the nutritional value so that we’re having better access to food that isn’t industrially grown. Professionally with the Re-Nuble hat on, I see that done in a way that is distributed and more collaborative.”

At the individual level Tinia also believes consumers need to be more aware when shopping for food.

“I just think people need to be really conscious of what they’re buying and consuming because they truly don’t realise that supermarkets and wholesale food suppliers are based on projections, so if you’re buying a large amount each month, of which you really only eat perhaps 75% of that food that you purchased last month, you are always going to create this residual waste because the markets are growing based on your receipts. So try to be incredibly minimalistic, mindful of being creative with meal planning, I see that as the lowest hanging fruit for most people.”

Tinia is a creative innovator changing food systems from the ground up and I am delighted to have her on the show to learn more about the potential food waste has to power organic food production.

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Written By

Marc is Editor-at-Large for Innovators Magazine and host of INSIDE IDEAS, his OnePoint5Media video podcast show. Marc is an official UN SDG Advocate, member of the World Economic Forum Expert Network, Resilient Futurist, and award-winning Global Food Reformist.

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