Managing global food waste with AI

Managing global food waste with AI

With his high-tech AI-driven rubbish bins, Rayner Loi is helping the hospitality industry significantly reduce and manage food waste – which amounts to billions of tonnes globally each year.

Rayner Loi’s idea for his business was triggered several years ago by an evening at a restaurant with an all-you-can-eat buffet. At about 9pm, with the buffet about to close and only a handful of people left in the restaurant, he watched as a waiter came out with full trays of food to top up the spread once more. “We couldn’t possibly have finished all that food,” he recalls thinking.

Soon after, he asked the executive chef at a hotel to give him a tour of the kitchen’s waste area. Loi was led to a space stacked with rows and rows of bins, all full. “When I was shown what was thrown away in one day, it was a shock,” says Loi. “It’s an image still etched in my mind.”

Reduce, reuse, recycle was a mantra Loi, 28, remembered from school. Yet while many organisations seemed to be focusing on the latter two, he reflected there seemed to be less focus on simply reducing waste in the first place.

Rayner Loi, co-founder and CEO of Lumitics, which provides AI-driven food waste management solutions to the hospitality industry.
Image courtesy and copyright Darren Gabriel Leow for Gen.T

Globally, 1.6bn tonnes of food waste is produced each year. This accounts for 38 per cent of the total energy usage in the global food system and 10 per cent of the total greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere. Buffets are significant contributors: an average of 50 per cent of the food produced will go to waste. Bringing these startling figures under control would make a significant contribution to broader efforts to tackle the climate crisis; and for businesses, less waste would be good for the bottom line.

Yet many of these restaurant owners, Loi found, had little awareness of the amount of food – let alone which ingredients – they were wasting day to day. Loi pressed pause on a science degree and began work on his startup, Lumitics, which he co-founded as CEO in 2017. The Singapore-based company provides tech- and AI-driven food waste management solutions to businesses in the catering and hospitality sector, from restaurants to hotels, cruise ships to airlines. “There’s this famous saying, ‘Whatever gets measured, gets managed’,” says Loi. “Many hotels, hoteliers and larger food and beverage operations are struggling to manage the food waste, because they don’t even know what goes into the bin. So, from there, the solution seemed obvious. The way to reduce food waste begins with measuring it. And that is what we do.”

For Lumitics, this means high-tech rubbish bins. The restaurant bins are fitted with a tray onto which waste food is scraped out. Before being dropped into the bin, the food is weighed and scanned by cameras that identify the dishes on a granular level. The client has access to data that illuminates the precise quantities of each dish that is going to waste and enables them to fine-tune their menu for future sittings. Lumitics provides insights such as: “X menu item is generating 200 per cent more waste than the average dish on the buffet line. Consider rotating this item out”. Or “Y station is the top wasted station for the past month. Relook at the type or number of dishes on offer”.

While similar technology is already on the market, the innovation that Loi is most proud of is the seamlessness of the Lumitics tech. Other solutions require quite a bit of interaction with the machine in order to identify the food, but in fast-moving environments with harried, hourly-paid staff, this can result in lower engagement and less accurate data. 

Creating a system that analyses food waste accurately was the biggest challenge for Lumitics – and has become their unique selling point. “In 2022 we helped our customers reduce approximately 400,000kg of food waste,” Loi explains. “That is equivalent to avoiding about 1 million kg of carbon emissions and saving 1 million meals.” Using machine learning, their proprietary image-recognition technology measures, identifies and tracks what is being thrown away by a client’s kitchen, recognising and registering different types of food waste with high accuracy. Loi would rather keep further details of this proprietary AI confidential, calling it “our secret sauce”.

If global food waste is halved by 2050, then 26.2 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide can be avoided, which, according to Lumitics, is the equivalent of taking 4.3 billion cars off the road
Credit: Martin Grimm / Alamy

For any company working to solve food waste issues there are opportunities to scale. The first two years of operation were slow – Loi was experimenting with prototypes, hammering out glitches with the hardware and running pilots in a handful of hotels. By 2019 the company was ready to commercialise and had half-a-dozen hotels in Singapore paying for the service – then the pandemic hit, impacting the tourism and hospitality sector particularly hard.

The company’s “breakout year” was 2021. Lumitics is now gathering momentum in the Asia Pacific region and has its sights set on global markets. Today, Lumitics operates in 15 countries and supplies a number of large global hotel chains. It has grown from a founding team of two to a company with 15 employees. Regional expansion has been supported by $557,000 seed funding in early 2020, and the startup has also benefited from government and eco-enterprise grants. Lumitics was one of 25 winning startups in a sustainable development startup contest by the UN World Tourism Organisation. Loi is bullish about the future growth for Lumitics, and also buoyed by the changing culture in the food industry. “Five, six years ago, nobody talked about food waste,” says Loi. “But today, I don’t have to convince chefs that waste is a problem. They all know it.”

Rayner Loi

Co Founder & CEO of Lumitics

Begins a science degree at Singapore University of Social Sciences, but takes an extended leave of absence two years later to focus on his startup


Co-founds Lumitics


Included on Tatler Asia’s Gen.T list, highlighting the ‘leaders of tomorrow’


Profiled by Time magazine as one of its Next Generation Leaders


Named on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list

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