Tokyo based startups look to link consumers with restaurants to curb food waste(serena and yen)

Sustainability has become the world’s catchphrase to protecting the environment and the economy at the same time. Food waste negates this mantle of sustainability where “6.46 million tons of untouched food were discarded in 2015” Japan. In the case of Japan’s solution to the food waste issue, one micro aspect comes in the form of an app called Reduce Go.

The app is associated with sustainability in three ways. The first and most discernible will be greenhouse gas release, of which a quarter is attributed to food production (Ritchie, 2019). Second, the app supplements existing sustainability efforts. Currently, there are facilities processing food waste into pig feed in Japan, but with an overwhelming amount of input yet limited requirement for output, these facilities are capable of utilizing only about 20% of food waste (Kuchikomi, 2018). With the introduction of this app, the remnant which ends up in incineration plants can be reduced through consumer habits. Lastly, the app has potential in changing the ideology which Japanese have on food freshness. It is a tacit amongst Japanese shops that food products can no longer be shelved once two-third of their shelf life passes, and these items turn into food waste despite being edible (The Japan Times, 2013). Compared to efforts by major markets and convenient stores in pushing this “discard line” closer to expiry date, the approach adopted by this app: providing lower price and good social cause; seems to put consumers at a gain instead of a loss. The explosive growth in the number of app users proved the app’s success and it’s potential on changing the perception of what Japanese categorized as “food waste”.

The introduction of the app joins a line of other social businesses seeking to tackle food waste problems and bridges the gap between Japan and its environment through monetary benefits. It represents Japan as opportunistic and perceives the environment as a business partner as people utilize startup solutions to encourage the rest of the nation to “go green”.

Robbins’s (2003) assertion on how environmental and social changes are political is illustrated by the power relations between the UN, Japanese government and the local party. “Gaiatsu” discussed by Kirby (2011) have a role in the growing rise of startups such as ReduceGo where food waste found prominence alongside calls for sustainability. The United Nations’ call for halving per capita food waste by 2030 influenced the Japanese government to organise more campaigns aimed at raising awareness (Horiuchi, 2019). The result led to an awkward push and pull between the consumer’s inability to “ realize that the sell-by date (shohi kigen) is not the same as the consumption-expiration date (shohi kigen)”(The Japan Times, 2013) and the “guilt” (Murakami, 2013) to reduce food waste.

On this note, the “guilt” of the Japanese people on food waste resonates with the respectful relationship that people have with nature as presented in the article by Kalland & Asquith (1997) and allows ReduceGo to tap into the duality mindset that people have.

The rise of eco-conscious companies in Japan’s landscape seeking to “create a system where we can cater to other motivations” illustrates the profit of sustainability mentioned by Kirby (2011) but also enhances the need for profits in such businesses in order to continue to harp on environmental protections at a local level.

At a subconscious level, the article embodies the rural-urban divide (Kalland & Asquith, 1997) in the perceptions of nature whereby apps such as ReduceGo and websites such as Tabete are designed only for large cities such as Tokyo where food waste is rampant and where some Japanese only go to restaurants to “exchange business cards without touching the food” (Murakami, 2013). The social design of such apps might not find solid footing in rural areas where there is a lack of restaurants, business and takeout food.

However, the idea of working sustainability that Kirby (2011) argues for is echoed in the final words of the article “To create more than we need has become the norm. … We need to ask the question: do we really need to produce this much?” Thus, Japan’s food waste solution is the continuous process between its culture for freshness, consumers, industry and state.

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