Tackling carbon emissions in the food supply chain

A recent study from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) tells us that the food supply chain in many countries is on course to overtake farming and land use as the largest contributor to greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the agri-food system. 

While many associate agri-food emissions with processes within the farm gate – such as livestock production and on-farm energy – it has now emerged that processes such as food processing, packaging, transport, retailing and waste disposal are growing faster and pushing supply chain towards the top of the food greenhouse gas emitters list.

Of the 16.5 billion tonnes of GHG emissions from global total agri-food systems in 2019, 7.2 billion tonnes came from within the farm gate – up just 9% since 1990. 3.5 billion tonnes came from land-use changes such as deforestation to create cropland and peatland degradation – down 25% since 1990.  That leaves 5.8 billion tonnes generated from supply-chain processes – double what it was in 1990 according to the new analysis.

Creating a more environmentally-friendly agri-food supply chain

Much work is underway to address farm gate processes and now, with the identification of this new trend, the focus broadens to include pre and post production processes.   Lightweight packaging is helping to reduce food producers’ operational and distribution footprint. New processing techniques are being applied to keep food fresh for longer and thus reduce food waste.  Supermarkets are also joining the movement to reduce carbon emission and waste by minimising packaging and moving to recyclable materials.

One UK supermarket, Morrisons, took this a step further recently when they announced they are moving away from displaying ‘use by’ dates on most of its milk ranges and are encouraging consumers to use the ‘sniff test’ in a bid to prevent millions of pints of milk going down the sink. Morrisons predicted that by doing this, they could help to prevent approximately 7 million pints being thrown away each year.  In other areas, operators of waste landfills are also coming under increasing pressure to reduce methane released into the atmosphere through improved gas collection systems.

Reducing carbon emissions in logistics

Logistics and transport are also playing their part.  Changes in transportation practices, lower carbon fuels and advances in vehicle technology all help to reduce GHGs in food transport.  Route optimisation, an emerging technology, is the process of using computer software to automatically calculate the most efficient route plans for enterprise fleets.  Route planning and optimisation based on changing supply and demand helps transport managers to provide high quality service to their customers and supply chain partners whilst reducing transport costs and carbon emissions.

In the dairy industry, for example, milk collection routes are planned using a combination of milk amounts produced on farms and fluctuating factory production requirements.  Up to date, accurate data on these factors are key ‘ingredients’ for the most carbon efficient plan.  Furthermore, when dealing with perishable goods such as milk, utilising software to optimise transportation routes reduces the risk of spoiling during the journey as everything is tracked and monitored to ensure timely arrival at the intended destination. 

Typically, adoption of industry-specific route optimisation solutions will result in reductions of kilometres travelled of 20%+.  Less distance travelled means less GHG emissions generated by the fleet.  

To learn how OptaHaul is helping the dairy industry to reduce carbon emissions in the agri-food supply chain, get in touch today.