Food waste is a serious problem, with around a third of food produced for human consumption being lost or wasted. This amounts to about 1.3 billion tonnes a year, according to a 2011 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
There are plenty of things we can all be doing at home to help tackle the problem – like planning our meals and buying just the right amount of food so nothing goes to waste – but innovation is also playing a part.
From big companies to individual artists, lots of people have been thinking about unique ways to tackle food waste, by repurposing off-cuts, used or surplus food into something new and exciting. Here are some of our favourite innovative ways food is being reused…
1. Dying clothes with avocado pits
This innovation has recently been used by fast-casual restaurant chain, Chipotle. In August, the American company released a new line of apparel it says is made out of organic cotton and dyed with "upcycled avocado pits from its restaurants".
Chipotle makes Mexican food, so guacamole is incredibly important. With over 2,500 sites across the US alone, you can be sure it throws away a lot of avocado pits – nearly 300 million a year. Now, instead of just being disposed of, some of these stones will be turned into ink by being simmered in water. The company says this creates "a sustainable, plant-based dye varying in colour, that ultimately results in customised apparel and accessories for the brand".
2. Skincare from used coffee grounds
No matter how clever you are with food waste – maybe you make sure you use up the entire cauliflower, including the leaves – there’s only so much you can do with used coffee grounds. That’s where companies like UpCircle Beauty come in, turning this ‘waste’ into beauty products.
Founder Anna Brightman says: "My brother [and co-founder] William used to make his own coffee each morning using a cafetière. Living in central London, he didn’t have a garden and so didn’t have enough plants he could use the coffee grounds on, so instead he was simply throwing them away.
"He asked his local coffee shop what they did with their waste coffee and was shocked to hear they were producing so much that they had to pay the council to have it removed and disposed of on landfill sites. I knew that coffee had loads of great skincare benefits, so… lightbulb moment! Why not repurpose the coffee into sustainable circular skincare products?"
The brand has since expanded into using fruit stones for cleansing balms and chai spices for bars of soap.
UpCircle Beauty isn’t the only company thinking about what to do with used coffee – there have been plenty of other innovations in recent years, like the The Coffee Recycling Co, which turns used grounds into biofuel.
3. Vases made of milk
Artist Tessa Silva makes vases, candlesticks and even earrings using a very unique ingredient: surplus milk. Her series of creations are called ‘Chalk & Cheese’ and ‘Protein’ – because Silva makes them by mixing chalk and the excess milk from the production of butter and cream. She writes on her website of the Protein series: "The project does not support industrial farming, but instead seeks to re-envision surplus milk as a resourceful and valuable raw material."
In an interview with Dezeen, Silva said the objects are also compostable, and will turn into dust when soaked in water for a few hours.
4. Clothes made out of pineapple leaves
The fashion industry is scrambling to find more eco-friendly, sustainable and vegan alternatives to leather. One of leaders in this is Piñatex, which makes vegan leather from pineapple leaves. Piñatex says there is approximately "13 million tonnes of waste from global pineapple agriculture every year" – and they take some of the pineapple leaves which would normally be thrown away after the fruit’s harvest and transform it into ‘leather’.
Piñatex is increasingly being used by high street brands like H&M and And Other Stories.
5. Paper from agricultural waste
Office supplies might not be the sexiest of things on this list, but hey, neither is food waste. PaperWise takes agricultural waste – things like leaves and stems – and turns it into paper.
PaperWise points out only a small portion of agricultural products grown is used for food – mainly the seeds, fruits, roots and juices – with the majority of the rest being burned. The company says: "Resources are scarce. PaperWise believes we should deal with raw materials in a smarter way. Why should we use primary raw materials for products when there are enough secondary raw materials – residues- available? PaperWise gives agricultural waste a second life."