According to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and World Resources Institute (WRI), about one-third of all food produced worldwide is lost or wasted in food product and consumption systems.
This is worth around $1 trillion and when converted to calories, global food loss and waste amounts to about 24% of all foods produced. In other words, 1 out of every 4 food calories intended for consumption is not actually eaten.
Environmentally, this results in 3.3 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases annually. Food loss and waste inflict a host of environmental impact and represent an inefficient allocation of resources. Additionally, given that 805 million people worldwide live in chronic hunger, food that end up in landfills can in actual fact be used to reduce hunger worldwide.
Yet recently, there has been an emerging group of food waste advocates that believe that food waste should not be recycled just for soup kitchens. Rather, they believe that food wastes are equally valuable and that a viable business can be created out of these otherwise-wasted foods. Here are just a few of many examples of ways in which these entrepreneurs are giving food waste a whole new look.
Last year, chef and owner of Michelin-starred restaurant Blue Hill, Dan Barber, started a pop-up restaurant called wastED. The menu, priced at $15, was centered around overlooked products that most people would consider as trash or waste. This includes items such as “cured cuts of waste-fed pig served with reject carrot mustard, off-grade sweet potatoes, and melba toast from yesterday’s oatmeal,” and “dry-aged beef ends broth with malt rootlets, mystery vegetables and peels.”
There was also a glossary at the bottom of the menu that explains terms where necessary. For example, “off-grade” was described as “below a commercially recognized standard of quality,” and “dry-aged beef ends” was described as “the hard exterior layers of dry-aged beef.”
Silo is UK’s first ever zero-waste restaurant. From leftover food ingredients such as vegetable peels, ox heart and pig’s blood, to seats made from recycled wood and drinks served in recycled jam-jar glasses, everything at Silo is compostable.
And although the recycling element is what sets Silo apart, the high quality of the food is what keeps customers coming back. Truly, Silo has proven that a sustainable food business can be both financially and ethically viable.
Misfit Juicery, a brand of cold-pressed juices, utilizes 70% to 80% of blemished or misshapen fruits and vegetables to make their delicious and nutritious products. These otherwise wasted foods also cost about 40% to 75% cheaper than “perfect” versions of the food, thus providing financial benefits for the company.
UK-based company Rubies in the Rubble uses misshapen and surplus produce that would have been otherwise discarded, to make a variety of relishes, jams and pickles.
For example, their Pickled Onion & Chili Relish utilizes oversized and blemished Rosanna pink onions, and their Spicy Tomato Relish utilizes tomatoes that are too ripe or too blemished for supermarkets and restaurants. On average, they save 300 curly cucumbers, 2100 juicy tomatoes and 4400 pink onions per month, which all amounts to 2962kg of CO2.
Beer production requires a lot of barely, and this generates massive quantities of leftover spent grain. Most conventionally, breweries would establish relationships with farmers who repurpose spent grains as compost of livestock feed.
ReGrained however, has found an innovative way to utilize it as a baking ingredient. Together with other responsibility-sourced ingredients, ReGrained has created granola bars that are nutritious, delicious, and sustainable all at the same time.
Similarly, Ellen King,—owner of Hewn Bakery in Evanston, Illinois—has gone one step further by using both spent grain and beer itself in its breads. Not only are these spent grains high in protein and fiber, they also cut down on the bakery’s ingredient cost.
Contrastingly, microbrewery Brussels Beer Project in Belgium has chosen to go the opposite direction by making beer out of leftover bread that would normally be tossed out.
According to founder Sebastian Morvan, one of the founders of this microbrewery, bread comprises of 12% of the total food waste in Brussels. As a result, they have since created the “Babylone,” the first ever contemporary beer brewed with recycled bread. With this product, they consumers back to more than 7000 years ago where bread was the primary source of grain in ancient beers.
BTTR owners Alejandro and Nikhil learned in a college class that mushrooms can be grown entirely on spent coffee grounds. In 2013 alone, they collected 3 million pounds of used coffee grounds from about 50 local cafes, to create organic mushroom kits. These kits allow consumers to grow their own gourmet, organic mushrooms in their own homes.
Founded by former president of Trader Joe's Doug Rauch, Daily Table is a nonprofit grocery store in Dorchester, Boston, that aims to provide nutritious, sustainable and affordable food options to the low-income families. Most of its stocks are donated by other grocery stores, suppliers and food rescue organizations. In most cases, there were simply a surplus of these items, or these items were rejected due to superficial problems unrelated to its quality.
Chefs at the Daily Table also prepare ready-to-eat meals with these excess ingredients, keeping in mind that these prepared meals must meet the nutritional guidelines, cost between $2 to $4, and as little as possible goes to waste.
These are just a few examples of how entrepreneurs in the food industry have been tackling problems of food waste and sustainability. There are also many online platforms that pair up suppliers with excess or “ugly” foods with consumers who would be able to purchase them at a discounted price, and cookbooks that educate consumers on sustainable cooking.
For us students, we can definitely help the problem by shopping wisely and only consuming what we need. Knowing the warmest and coldest parts of our fridge and how to store leftovers can also prevent food spoilage. For those interested to get more involved in finding solutions to reduce or reuse food wastes, be sure to participate in the inaugural Evolution of Food Waste (EFW) Product Development Competition launched by the Research Chef Association.