Opinion: Items that were once a by-product of agricultural processes have now been elevated to co-product status.

What comes to mind when you read about ‘potato pulp’ and ‘rice bran’? Well, food waste might have occurred to you, that is before the AgroCycle Project got their hands on them.

When you hear of edible straws, maybe the scene from the original Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory movie where the late Gene Wilder (aka Willy Wonka) munched on the edible cup comes to mind.

Maybe this scene was more prophetic than we knew at the time. Fast forward to today where AgroCycle, a joint European Commission and Chinese Government funded Horizon 2020 project is addressing the ‘circular economy’ where the following five everyday items are made from food waste: 

1) Plant pots made from potato pulp: A possible smart replacement for the pitiful plastic plant pots often spotted lying idle in back gardens collecting rainwater.

The same cracked and discarded pots are no longer any use to their cunning owners who only used them until the plants they held needed to be rehomed in the earth. At least these beauties made from potato pulp could be rehomed along with the plants they carry, back into the earth from where they originated.

2) Cups made from potato pulp: Another prototype developed by the AgroCycle researchers in an effort to divert food waste from landfill and reduce plastic pollution. 

3) Digestive biscuits made from rice bran: These tasty treats are an alternative to the classic digestive, gluten free, and rather delicious with a hot cup of tea, it’s no surprise there were a number of Irish researchers involved with the project.

These little cookies also create an opportunity to make some money for farmers whose rice bran was only ever used for animal feed or sent to landfill. Oh, and we can’t forget to mention the environmental advantages obviously. 

4) Edible straws made of rice bran: Similar to the digestives, these edible straws, given a little bit of added flavour would enhance any family party. Like the everlasting gobstopper, they still need a little bit of tweaking but things are looking good. 

5) Food wrap made of potato pulp: This is a very welcome addition to the bioplastics market in the war against plastic. This food wrap may even have the potential to improve shelf life. Watch this space. 

From Radio 1's CountryWide, it's estimated that around one third of food produced in the world is wasted, but the focus is growing on trying to reduce the amount of food that goes to waste. None more so than Food Cloud with Iseult Ward, co-founder & CEO joins Damien in studio.           

There was a time when all of the above materials would most likely have ended up in landfill or similar but thanks to researchers around the globe, this food waste is no longer perceived as ‘waste’. Items that were once a by-product of agricultural processes have now been elevated to co-product status.

That's good news for farmers and for the environment, and in the current climate (if you will pardon the pun), the environment needs all the help it can get.

All of the above items have been created by partners in the AgroCycle project – partners from Greece, Italy, Germany among others - collaborating together and sharing expertise. With 26 partners across The European Union, China and Hong Kong, Irish researchers have a vital role leading the €8 million project from their headquarters in UCD.

Another Irish research partner, The Froebel Department of Primary and Early Childhood Education at Maynooth University have also had the novel position of developing suitable material for inclusion in the primary school curriculum, and disseminating the complex scientific content of all 26 partners in both Irish and Chinese primary schools.

The AgroCycle Project is one of the first projects of its kind where primary school children have been invited to explore the scientific content of European Commission and Chinese research and innovation, challenging the children to live in a sustainable way and to design for a circular economy. 

The children had a lot of fun finding ways to valorise or give value to items that were once only ever seen as waste. They essentially became the 27th partner on this Horizon 2020 project and were not shy about sharing their opinions on the efforts of the researchers. 

From Radio 1's Marian Finucane, in Ireland, we dispose of over one million tonnes of food waste every year,  but 60% of this is designated as ‘avoidable food waste’. Home Economist and lecturer with LIT, Agnes Bouchier-Hayes shares some tips on how to reduce our food waste.

As a result of this work, the website ‘AgroCycle Kids’ has organically emerged. This is a subsection of the wider AgroCycle Marketplace which recently launched.  Dubbed the Tinder or Done Deal for farmers and food producers wishing to sell their waste (sorry, by-products).

The AgroCycle Marketplace provides an opportunity for relevant parties to connect and shift their ‘waste’. Although as the researchers have taught us, we would want to be careful of throwing that term ‘waste’ around.

The AgroCycle Kids website connects children, parents, educators and any interested parties to free educational resources, activities, videos, and an abundance of information surrounding sustainability, the sustainable development goals of 2030, waste valorisation as a tool in tackling climate change, climate justice news, and the wider subject of environmental awareness and care.

It is a place you can go to develop your stewardship skills, nurture a love for our planet, and work together on behalf of the only home we have. The free resources are available on the site in English, Irish and soon in Chinese. 

Certainly we only have to look at the recent climate strikes, started by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, to know that children have a right to be included in the conversation, something that Maynooth University predicted as early as 2016 at the inception of the project. 

Not only do they have a right to be included, but in many cases they are leading the charge. It seems that collectively, adults and children work very well together when it matters. 


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ.