"Food loss" refers to the discarding of food products that are still fit for consumption. In Japan, total food loss amounts to 6.12 million tons*1 annually, or 132 grams (equivalent to one bowl of rice) per person per day. The Food Loss Reduction Promotion Act that came into effect in October 2019 underlines the importance of making the whole of society more mindful of avoiding wastage of food, as this problem requires serious attention in Japan, a country that imports a large proportion of its food.
Below we introduce a food recycling initiative designed to address this social issue. The initiative was undertaken as a community-wide effort led by OMRON's Kusatsu office and the Shiga Prefectural Konan Agricultural High School.
Located in the city of Kusatsu, Shiga Prefecture, the Kusatsu office is one of OMRON's major sites for the manufacture of control devices essential to factory automation. Within the plant, autonomous mobile robots scurry around production lines equipped with cutting-edge manufacturing technology.
Lake Biwa accounts for one-sixth of Shiga Prefecture's total area, and environmental activities to conserve the lake's rich ecology are popular within the prefecture. The Kusatsu office has been in operation in this region since 1961 and pursues a range of environmental initiatives such as the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions in manufacturing processes. The office's cafeteria, which is used by approximately 1,700 employees daily, is no exception. The cafeteria has been working since 2000 to reduce food loss, finding ways to minimize food left over by diners and turning leftover vegetables and other raw waste into compost on-site. The cafeteria has not discarded any food waste at all since 2000. Yoshikazu Mekata, the representative of Kusatsu office since 2015, has been working to accelerate these initiatives. Mr. Mekata's goal has been to raise environmental awareness among employees and enable the office to contribute to both the environment and the local community.
Mr. Mekata set his sights on Shiga Prefectural Konan Agricultural High School, which is located just across from the office. This school is the only agriculture-specific senior high school in the whole of the Konan region that lies to the south of Lake Biwa. It supports local agriculture through activities in partnership with the local community. OMRON had already been donating the compost produced at the Kusatsu office for the school to use in cultivating vegetables, however there were no other forms of exchange between the office and the school at the time Mr. Mekata took office. He went to consult with the school's Principal, Shoji Inoue, and discovered that they shared the same aspirations. Principal Inoue explained that he hoped to raise his students' motivation by having the vegetables that students produced at the school used in cafeterias outside the school campus.
This was the starting point for a food recycling program that now sees the compost provided by OMRON used by the school's students to cultivate vegetables, which are then served again in OMRON's cafeteria.
Bringing this idea to fruition proved difficult. Compost produced from raw waste varies in quality depending on the season and type of waste used; the Kusatsu office was required to secure a place to store it where the smell would not disturb local residents and found there were times when not all the compost could be supplied to the school. The factory installed new facilities and devised other improvements that enabled the production of compost that was of a stable quality and odor-free. To coincide with the launch of the food recycling program, inspection tours were initiated to enable the school's students to view the inside of the cafeteria, vegetable deliveries, and other activities at the office. The students' motivation to cultivate vegetables is boosted by this opportunity to see office employees actually eating the vegetables they have grown. OMRON is also devising ways to make employees more aware of the producers of their food, such as indicating on menu that which dishes use vegetables purchased from Konan Agricultural High School.
Seeing each other's faces has increased employees' environmental awareness and lead to reduce leftover food. As a result of steady analysis and these efforts taken in the cafeteria, the volume of raw waste produced in the Kusatsu office in 2019 was one half of that recorded in 2015, before the food recycling initiative began.
Mr. Mekata says: "The waste we produce comes back to us in the form of fresh vegetables, which our employees eat with an awareness of where they've come from. We've achieved an ideal model of local production, local consumption. Employees can easily participate in food recycling simply by using the cafeteria from day to day. Dining at the cafeteria is an opportunity for employees to gain a more direct and personal awareness of local production, local consumption, food loss, and other issues related to food supply."
Food Recycling Connects People to People and Communities
The people-to-people exchanges between OMRON and Konan Agricultural High School that began with the food recycling program are now picking up even more speed. An annual summer event is now held for the exhibition and sale of vegetables grown at the school. Employees look forward with great anticipation to the displays of freshly-picked tomatoes, cucumbers and other summer vegetables. This year, there are also plans for a vegetable-growing experience program in which OMRON employees and their families work with students to cultivate vegetables right through from sowing to harvesting.
"We will continue to advance our interpersonal connections," explains Mr. Mekata enthusiastically. "In the future, we hope to realize a collaboration between Konan Agricultural High School and OMRON that uses farmland to develop agriculture-related products and helps to revitalize the local community."
These environmental initiatives that contribute to the local community gained recognition in 2019, when the OMRON Kusatsu office was honored with the 2019 Shiga Prefecture Low-Carbon Society Development Award*. On the occasion of this award, the prefectural road along which OMRON and Konan Agricultural High School stand, a road which runs all the way to the shores of Lake Biwa, was renamed "Kusatsu Environment Street." Kusatsu City Hall, schools, companies located along the road, and other parties have started to work together in a community-wide effort to promote environmental activities.
People-to-people connections born out of a food recycling program have extended across the community and are now poised to inspire a major shift toward a recycling-oriented society.
*1 Ministry of the Environment, "Estimated Volumes of Food Waste and Food Loss in Japan (fiscal 2017)":
*2 Shiga Prefecture Low-Carbon Society Development Award:
Operated by Shiga Prefectural Government, this is an awards program designed to honor the achievements of prefectural citizens, businesses, and private sector organizations that have done outstanding work toward the development of a low-carbon society.