Photo/IllutrationWorkers discard ripe fruits and vegetables into a crusher at the Japan Food Ecology Center Inc. in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture. (Yusaku Kanagawa)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Editor's note: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the United Nations in September 2015 outlines 17 goals toward which nations of the world should work on and seek a solution.

These sustainable development goals (SDGs) include achieving gender equality, ending poverty in all forms and taking action to combat climate change.

The Asahi Shimbun supports the global effort to achieve these SDGs and has reported on efforts being made in Japan and abroad toward those goals.

The following is one in a series of articles on SDGs to appear on the AJW website.

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The day after Christmas is the perfect time to reflect on how much food is wasted every year in Japan and around the world.

Because it was Dec. 26, the items discarded and sent to the Japan Food Ecology Center Inc. included not only ripe apples and bell peppers, but cake decorated with Santa Claus, roast chicken and lobster.

The most prevalent food item was simple white rice.

"A large amount is left over because more than the necessary amount is cooked to ensure against a shortage," said a company official at the facility, located in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, west of Tokyo.

The Japan Food Ecology Center has large machinery devoted to the crushing of food products brought to the plant from supermarkets or food manufacturing companies.

In Japan over the course of a year, 6.32 million tons of perfectly edible food is thrown out.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, a total of 1.3 billion tons of food is discarded worldwide annually. The figure represents about one-third of all food produced in the world over the course of a year.

Meanwhile, one in nine people around the world are malnourished.

To deal with the problem, one of the U.N. sustainable development goals focuses on the need to become responsible producers and consumers. In terms of food loss, the SDG seeks to "by 2030, halve per capita global food waste."

Meanwhile, back in Japan on Dec. 26, the Japan Food Ecology Center took in 34.4 tons of food waste, about two tons more than usual.

At the same time, the company is also trying to do its part to recycle most of what is brought in.

After impurities are removed from the food waste, it is sterilized at high temperatures and fermented using lactic acid to produce liquid feed for hogs.

Other companies are trying to use the SDG to cut down on food waste as a business opportunity.

Every weekday, Sagamiya Foods Co., a tofu manufacturer based in Maebashi, receives by e-mail the day's "index" for making certain types of tofu. The service is provided by the Japan Weather Association, based in Tokyo's Toshima Ward.

The tofu index gives Sagamiya Foods employees a better idea of what products may sell that day based on changes in the weather from the previous day.

"It is warmer than yesterday, so orders from supermarkets (for baked tofu) will likely fall," said Takayuki Suzuki, 27, who is in charge of production planning, as he punched in the planned number of units to be produced into the company computer.

In the past, company workers gathered information about sales at retail outlets and also relied on their experience and gut instinct to decide how much tofu to produce. If those predictions were off, the company had to discard the excess products.

About three years ago, Japan Weather Association officials noticed that sales of freshly pressed tofu increased during the summer. Further analysis led to the conclusion that sales of such tofu rose not during periods of extremely high temperatures, but when there were large fluctuations in temperatures with a sudden increase from the 20-degree level to about 30 degrees.

That wind chill factor as well as past order results were used to come up with two indices for summer and winter to forecast sales of two major types of tofu specific to each season.

By using the indices, Sagamiya Foods has reduced the gap between production volume and actual orders by 30 percent.

"As long as we continue to be a food manufacturer, there will always be discarded products," said company President Junji Torigoe, 43. "We must continue to make efforts to reduce food loss as a mission for our company."

The Japan Weather Association is now providing such demand forecasts to six food manufacturing companies.

Toshio Nakano, 42, the engineer who came up with the idea, foresees other possibilities.

"We will be able to further reduce food loss and costs if the barriers separating retailers, distributors and corporate groups can be overcome and those companies can be connected through the weather," Nakano said. "I believe it will only succeed if we can produce a structure that will lead to benefits for all those involved."

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Visit our other articles about SDGs.

U.N. official hopes Japan plays leading role in SDGs (http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201708190012.html)

Pikotaro’s new U.N. ‘PPAP’ takes SDGs to global audience (http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201708190022.html)

Japan’s Pikotaro the big hit at U.N. event to promote SDGs (http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201707180040.html)