Artificial Intelligence to Reduce Food Waste in UAE

by Marissa Sheldon, MPH
Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy name: UAE Food Waste Pledge

Overview: The United Arab Emirates’ Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) has asked the hospitality sector to pledge to reduce food waste in professional kitchens with the help of technology from Winnow.   

Location: United Arab Emirates

Population: 9.8 million

Food policy category: Food Waste Reduction and Management

Program goals: To reduce food waste within the hospitality industry, and to meet one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals of cutting food waste globally by 50 percent by 2030. 

How it works: Hotels and restaurants that take the pledge use Winnow Vision, an artificial intelligence program designed specifically for reducing food waste. The system includes a camera to take photos of food and a scale to weigh the food as it is thrown away.  Winnow Vision identifies which food items are most frequently wasted, thereby helping chefs to adjust their purchases and save money. The weight is used to calculate the cost of the wasted food. After an initial training period, the system becomes automated and requires minimal time and effort on the part of the hospitality staff. 

Organizations are able to sign the pledge at three levels of commitment:

  1. Pledge makers make a commitment to reduce food waste.
  2. Pledge champions use the Winnow technology and submit their data to MOCCAE.
  3. Pledge partners provide support for the pledge through knowledge-sharing and collaboration.

Winnow and MOCCAE are also working together to produce a Food Waste Recipe Book featuring recipes from UAE chefs using ingredients that otherwise would have been wasted.

Progress to date: When the pledge was launched in 2018, the UAE exceeded their goal to recover one million meals (measured as 400 grams of food per meal) in 12 months. In 2019, the target increased to two million meals, and for 2020, the target is up to three million meals annually. 

Why it is important: Approximately one-third of all food is wasted globally, amounting to 1.3 billion tons each year. According to the Food Sustainability Index, the UAE wastes 494 pounds of food per person per year, compared with 209 to 254 pounds in the US and Europe. Food waste not only results in an economic loss of $1 trillion each year, but also has a significant impact on the environment and food security.

The production of food that is ultimately lost or wasted generates 3.3 tons of carbon dioxide, making food waste the third highest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, right after all of the United States and all of China.  Greenhouse gas emissions are known to contribute significantly to climate change, which may ultimately hinder the world’s food supply

The world’s population is expected to increase by 2 billion over the next 30 years, reaching 9.7 billion in 2050. Food production, however, will not increase enough to ensure food security for the world’s population. Cutting the world’s current food waste down to zero would feed 2 billion people and eliminate food insecurity now and in the future. 

Program/Policy initiated: The pledge was launched in 2018. 

Point of contact: N/A

Similar practices: 

Evaluation: Since adopting Winnow Vision in their kitchens, some hotels have reported a reduction in food waste of up to 75 percent and savings of up to $140,000 within two years. Further evaluation results have not yet been reported. 

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