Tomra: Sorting Will Play an Essential Role in Reducing Food Waste


New technologies can help tackle the fast approaching issue of global food shortages, Tomra Food’s Director Business Development Bjorn Thumas explained in a recent article.

While these technologies will be deployed in supermarkets (in-store and online), as well as in the food industry supply chain in order to attract customers, they can also benefit the planet through improving sustainability. The article forecasts that producing and selling food will become more environmentally responsible because sustainability and profitability both depend on efficient use of resources.

The global population is expected to increase from 7.6bn to 10bn by 2050, and in many places, food demand is already outstripping supply. To illustrate the rapid pace of change, agricultural demand today is 50% greater than it was just five years ago. This is placing enormous strain on agricultural resources because the land available for growing food is very limited. According to data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, only 20% more land can be brought into productive use. Thus, existing resources must be used more effectively to provide food for everyone.

Additionally, the issue of food waste is also a major problem. Almost one-third of all the food produced worldwide is being wasted. Approximately 1.3bn tons of food is rotting away or is thrown away every year. Waste accounts for 45% of all fruit and vegetables and 20% of all meat. The lost food is enough to feed 795 million hungry people from around the world.

Tomra acknowledges the issue of food waste and according to Thumas, it is working closely with farmers, processors, and retailers to tackle the matter. The company believes that more needs to be done to prevent so much “good product” being removed unnecessarily from the processing line because of inefficient sorting. To this end, Tomra has been working to develop sustainable solutions with its customers and many other companies.

Waste also has commercial implications. According to the Waste and Resources Action Program (WRAP), preventing food waste has the potential to save businesses EUR341m a year. Some 54% of all this waste is a byproduct of the upstream processes – many resulting from inefficiencies in developing countries during harvesting, post-harvest handling, and processing. The other 46% is wasted in processing, distribution, and consumption.

Fortunately, measures are being taken to counter the effects of food waste. The United Nations agreed in 2015 to reduce per capita food waste by half by 2030. At the same time, the European Parliament stated in the report that automating food processing lines with the right technology can improve sustainability in many ways, such as “optimizing product quality” and “reducing quality losses and defects and decreasing energy and water consumption.”

According to Tomra’s Thumas, there is great potential in optimizing the latest sensor-based sorting solutions. For example, these machines are capable of determining whether 70% of a poor-looking crop is actually of good quality. At the same time as meeting precisely defined quality standards, this could help sell the majority of the product, thus feeding people and making profit, rather than consigning it to the waste.

Waste can also be reduced through reverse sorting. Waste streams containing as little as 1% to 2% of good product are often discarded, which is unnecessary. With the correct optical set-up, arrived at by the sorting machine manufacturer having a good understanding of potential purposes of “side-streams”, automated sorters can recover this waste.

This is why Tomra believes sorting technology will play an increasingly important role in food waste, and by extension in the supermarket of the future.