Giving food waste a second life

When consumers toss food into the trash bin, they may not think about what the item cost, how much time the manufacturer spent making the product or what it took for the farmers to grow the ingredients. Although they may think the cost is trivial, the reality is that $218 billion is spent in the US annually on food that ends up being wasted, according to data from ReFED.

Globally, the foods that are wasted the most are fruits, vegetables, roots and tubers, according to statistics from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. The total food losses and waste each year for the various categories are as follows, the UN data show:

  • Meat: 20%
  • Dairy: 20%
  • Oilseeds and pulses: 20%
  • Cereals: 30%
  • Fish and seafood: 35%
  • Roots and tubers: 45%
  • Fruit and vegetables: 45%

Government stakeholders are trying to take aim at the issue, and the US Department of Agriculture has identified food waste as the single biggest contributor to municipal landfills. The USDA joined forces with the Environmental Protection Agency for a Food Waste Challenge to spread the word about how to stem losses from this growing issue.

New products aim to keep products out of landfills

Fortunately, some food and beverage businesses are also doing their part to stop the leaks in the food waste chain by using food ingredients that would otherwise be discarded to make new products. From unattractive fruit to production byproducts, ingredients are being reclaimed and made into foods and beverages that offer them new life. Check out the following list that describes just a few of the firms that are leading the charge.

ReGrained: Every time brewers produce a six-pack of beer, a pound of grain is left over, and ReGrained mixes that grain with other ingredients to make snack bars. The 160-calorie bars come in creative flavors like Chocolate Coffee Stout and Blueberry Sunflower Saison, and are wrapped in compostable packaging. “Spent grain is the perfect ingredient for a well-balanced nutrition bar,” ReGrained’s Cassidy Lundy told SmartBrief. “Most of the sugar has been extracted from the grain through the brewing process, and you are left with about 20% protein, 35% fiber and micronutrients.”

She points to other trailblazing firms as having set the stage for tackling food waste through new product development. “Food waste is undoubtedly on trend,” she said. “Companies like Imperfect Produce and Barnana have helped consumers to appreciate ‘ugly’ fruits and vegetables. The next step of this consumer education is in ‘edible upcycling’ -- or rescuing nutritious byproducts from the waste stream. We are seeing more and more customers become familiar with and excited about this process, and in that, a growing appreciation for our products.”

Misfit Juicery: Misfit aims to repurpose the 33% of produce that farmers lose due to cosmetic issues and turn those fruits and vegetables into juice. The company works directly with farmers to source its ingredients, and uses not only unattractive produce, but also the scraps and trimmings from items that are packaged to sell in stores.  

Forager Project: Forager got its start by creating cold-pressed juices and nut-based beverages, but the company decided to find a way to repurpose the fiber created from its production process. Rather than paying other companies to compost the pulp fibers, Forager Project’s founders chose to make snack chips out of the pulp, resulting in corn-free, gluten-free chips in four flavors, and less food wasted.

Ugly Juice: After sourcing unattractive produce from local farmers, Ugly Juice turns it into cold-pressed juice, bottles it and then delivers it via bicycle throughout the San Francisco Bay area. Company co-founder Slava Chupryna said the company is able to source the produce for up to 30% less cost than would it would pay for attractive produce.

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