Positive Carbon: Dispensing with food waste using AI and lidar

18 Jul 2022

Aisling and Mark Kirwan. Image: Dominik Tryba

Aisling and Mark Kirwan have spent a combined 20 years tackling the shameful issue of food waste.

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” said Aisling Kirwan. And what her start-up, Positive Carbon, is helping to manage is food waste.

The Dublin-headquartered start-up provides commercial kitchens with technology that can monitor food waste in detail, giving them the data they need to tackle this issue. The company believes its tech can help cut food waste in half, while also reducing costs and supporting business sustainability goals.

“In Europe, the food service industry spends €21bn annually on food that ends up in the bin,” said Aisling. “The reason food waste is such an extensive issue is due to the lack of visibility. If you don’t know what you’re wasting, how can you possibly reduce it?”

Positive Carbon helps uncover the extent of food waste using AI and lidar, a form of laser sensing that’s also used in self-driving cars.

“The technology records and logs every piece of food that is thrown in the bin,” Aisling explained. “All of the data collected from the food is displayed on user-friendly reporting dashboards where staff can see exactly what food they’re wasting and can make changes to their purchasing, production and preparation to reduce this food waste.”

‘As a start-up created in the midst of the pandemic, we have faced many challenges’

Businesses that want to keep an eye on waste in this way can simply install Positive Carbon’s system of scanners and cameras above food waste bins. The system is already in use in Trinity College Dublin, Dublin City University, Sandymount Hotel, The Grand Hotel Malahide and Airfield Estate in Dundrum.

Recently, the company secured a partnership with KSG, the third-largest food service provider in Ireland servicing 120 locations across the country.

This project was supported through the Green Enterprise Innovation for a Circular Economy programme from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). All along its journey, Positive Carbon has also had “fantastic support”, according to Aisling, from the EPA as well as Enterprise Ireland and Social Entrepreneurs Ireland.

Enterprise Ireland backed the company through its Competitive Start Fund and New Frontiers programme, and then again in a pre-seed funding round in 2021 along with German VC APX, marking the latter’s first investment in an Irish business.

At the same time the start-up was selected for University College Dublin’s Agcellerator programme and had also been accepted into Social Entrepreneurs Ireland’s Impact Programme. Earlier this year, Positive Carbon was among eight Irish businesses selected by Bord na Móna for its Accelerate Green programme.

All of this has come quickly for the young start-up, which was founded in 2020.

“As a start-up created in the midst of the pandemic, when the entire industry was essentially closed, we have faced many challenges, especially with pilots and roll-outs stopping and starting,” said Aisling. “Thankfully, since restrictions have been lifted, businesses have been keen to put sustainability and cost-savings as a top priority.”

‘The goal is to make food waste monitoring simple and accessible’

But managing food waste has always been a priority for Aisling, who previously worked at FoodCloud, a successful Irish social enterprise that redistributes what would be wasted food to where it is most needed. Aisling worked with FoodCloud for three years and, overall, has been working with her co-founder Mark Kirwan for many years on this issue.

CEO Mark leads product development and created the patent for the technology, while Aisling leads operations as COO. Between them, they have a combined 20 years’ experience in building and rolling out food waste technology in the UK, Australia, Chile and now back in Ireland.

As well as the food service industry, Positive Carbon aims to partner with the country’s broad base of multinationals.

“We can also benefit from working with some of the largest tech companies located in Dublin, who want to bring efficiency to their business while also helping reach their ambitious sustainability goals,” said Aisling.

“The goal at Positive Carbon is to make food waste monitoring so simple and accessible that any business that wants to track their food waste and reduce their food bills and environmental impact can.”

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Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.