14th September 2022: The Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation, and Science today announced the winner of the Food Challenge as part of the SFI Future Innovator Prize programme and awarded €2m in funding to the Leaf No Waste team.

Speaking about the award, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris said: “I am delighted to announce Leaf No Waste as the winner of this year’s Food Challenge as part of the SFI Future Innovator Prize. This innovative idea represents the true nature of challenge funding."

This clever solution to reducing food waste could not only have significant influence across STEM research but across all aspects of society as we work together to meet our sustainability goals and protecting our planet for future generations.

The Leaf No Waste team is led by Lorraine Foley of TU Dublin along with core team members Prof. Jesus Frias Celayeta of TU Dublin and Dr Lael Walsh and and Dr Shivani Pathania of Teagasc. The Societal Impact Champion on the team is Stephen McCormack of McCormack Family Farms.

The Leaf No Waste team is developing a novel solutions that have the potential to address food waste by combining plant fortification with sustainable compostable packaging to enhance the shelf life of fresh produce.

Commenting on the award, Lorraine Foley, Leaf No Waste Principal Investigator, said: “This award presents a great opportunity for Leaf No Waste to find pathways to reduce food loss and identify the best use of alternative plastic packaging that will benefit growers, retailers and consumers alike. It will also enable food producers to move away from single use plastic packaging in favour of more sustainable methods, uniquely positioning the Irish agriculture sector as a global leader in sustainable food production.”

During initial phases of the Food Challenge competition, the Leaf No Waste team identified that despite consumer demand for more sustainable and compostable packaging, its use can cause premature food spoilage and increase food waste.

To address this problem, the Leaf No Waste team plan to explore this issue from a new perspective that combines silicon plant biostimulant and compostable plastic packaging design. Specifically, the team will develop approaches that use silicon-based fortification for a range of Irish crops in combination with compostable plastic packaging selection and design to optimise the shelf life of products and minimise food spoilage and waste.

The Leaf No Waste team has already conducted a number of preliminary field trials that have produced highly compelling data which suggests, for certain products, food waste risks could be reduced by as much as 50% in an environmentally sustainable manner. Using the Prize award from the programme, the team plans to build on these findings and create relatable solutions for growers and retailers transitioning to a more sustainable future in food production.

Dr Ruth Freeman, Director of Science for Society, Science Foundation Ireland added her congratulations: “I would like to commend Leaf No Waste for their proposal to create a more sustainable packaging approach which could reduce food waste significantly, while also meeting the demand for more sustainable food packaging.  It is estimated that one-third of all food produced globally for human consumption is lost or wasted, representing massive systematic inefficiency. This inefficiency contributes to many significant national and global issues. This project, therefore, has the potential to have an impact in addressing problems such as land degradation, food insecurity and malnutrition.