A new life for food waste

A new life for food waste

By Navneeta Kaul

Every year, about 1.3 billion tonnes of food goes off to waste. However, the good news is that industries are finding unique and innovative uses of food waste. The strategies are aimed to drive food waste into new, healthy, and value-added products. Upcycling food waste to become useful products will feed people, generate opportunities for employment, and reduce the environmental impact of wasted resources.

In a previous article, we covered how companies are making food waste edible again

In this article, let us take a look at the recent innovations that aim to turn the “trash” of the food industry to the “treasure” of other industries through a variety of beneficial products.

Food waste to energy:

The food trash dumped in landfills produces a large amount of methane, which creates massive environmental challenges. However, the potential of turning food waste to energy is immense. Waste Management (WM) is one company that is working on turning food waste into energy to meet the world’s growing demands. WM has centralized organic recycling equipment processing facilities to convert food waste into engineered bioslurry, which is used to generate electricity. The company claims that the process is enough to power 8-10 homes.

Another company, HomeBiogas, has manufactured a simple biogas system — a super composter that turns kitchen leftovers into methane gas for cooking. It also creates a rich liquid fertilizer for plants.

Similarly, Natural Upcycling collects food waste and turns it into a renewable resource of energy such as electricity and natural gas. They also offer a customized program for waste disposal for organizations including restaurants, grocery stores, hospitals, universities and schools, cafeterias, food manufacturers, and food distribution centers.

Bioplastics from food waste:

Plastic pollution is a significant environmental concern, and demand for plastic is continuously increasing. While there are efforts to recycle the plastic, the majority of it is incinerated to produce electricity, leading to climate change. Bioplastics — plastics made from plant-based materials — provide a solution, as they are long-lasting and biodegradable. Researchers are racing to produce bioplastics from food waste.

Full Cycle Bioplastics, a company at the forefront of innovation, manufactures polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) bioplastic, with organic and cellulose waste as raw materials. The waste is dumped into a modified digestion tank for breakdown to waste intermediates and fed to bacteria for production of PHA. Full-cycle PHA is cost-competitive to fossil fuel–based alternatives and has the potential to replace a wide variety of synthetic plastics. Moreover, it reduces plastic pollution and can help lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Major companies such as BASF, Novamont, and DowDuPont are also working on manufacturing bioplastics from food waste. Biome Technologies and the University of Warwick have collaborated to genetically engineer Rhodococcus bacteria to produce useful chemicals for generating bioplastics.

In another exciting research project, scientists have identified a one-step process to produce valuable bioplastics from vegetable waste. The process is carried out in a diluted solution of HCl at room temperature and is easily scalable with no environmental concerns. The team has reported flexible bioplastic films from vegetable waste including carrot, parsley, radicchio, and cauliflower. Taken together, bioplastics derived from food waste could offer a solution to many challenges.

Sustainable fabric and textiles:

In an age where designers and manufacturers are looking for more sustainable ethnic materials, companies have come up with breakthroughs in converting food waste into clothes and textiles. Australian company Nanollose has created the world’s first sweater from coconut waste. The new coconut fiber, termed as Nullarbor, is produced with the fermentation of liquid food waste by bacteria. The process is eco-friendly, as it does not need any tree cut-downs. Due to its many benefits, Nanollose intends to increase the production of Nullarbor to cater to the demands of different brands and companies. And Dutch company Leoxx generates biodegradable textiles and carpets from banana plants.

Ananas Anam, a British startup, has produced a sustainable alternative leather substitute called Pinatex from pineapple waste. Pinatex is used to make shoes, bags, wallets, clothes, and upholstery. Another startup, Orange Fiber, weaves fabrics from citrus peel waste. Another company at the forefront of producing low-cost and highly scalable biofibers from food-crop waste is Agraloop. The company has developed a processing system capable of converting food waste into valuable biofibers for a wide range of applications.

Waste for construction and furniture design:

Corn cobs are being investigated by Wood K plus for use in building furniture, interiors, and doors. Enviro Board has patented a milling process to convert agricultural waste fibers into low-cost, eco-friendly building panels for use in buildings and transportation sound walls. In another example of using graphic design skills, two Kingston University graduate students have created an eco-friendly, sustainable, and biodegradable alternative to medium-density fiberboards (MDF) from potato peelings. The team has built Chip[s] Board — a potato-based product turning food waste from restaurants into a ready-to-use chipboard-like sheet.

Insulation:

MaterialDistrict (formerly known as Materia) has made a potato cork from potato peels. The material is lightweight, fire resistant, and water repellent. It can be processed under various forms and can be used for acoustic and thermal insulation. Another startup called Aeropowder has discovered a way to turn feathers into a unique, high-performance insulation textile with a compostable food-grade liner. The product, pluumo, can replace traditional polystyrene packaging for sustainable deliveries.

Biofuel:

London-based startup Biobean uses spent coffee grounds to fuel stoves, fires, and industrial furnaces. Coffee grounds are mixed with sawdust, compacted, and coated with wax to make carbon-neutral biofuel in the form of logs and biomass pellets. While logs are used for fireplaces, stoves, and furnaces, pellets are used to heat buildings on an industrial scale. 

In another exciting research project by the startup Revive Eco, two Scottish entrepreneurs have come up with a unique way to extract oil from used coffee grounds. Oils extracted from coffee grounds have a wide range of uses in different industries, including cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, household products, and a lot more. Coffee-derived oils also have the same components as palm oil. Palm oil poses a challenge for the environment, and manufacturers are trying to find alternatives. Revive Eco aims to provide a more sustainable solution to industries by replacing palm oil.

Moving forward:

The future of sustainable food is here, and companies are discovering new and profitable ways to reuse food waste. We are living in an exciting time of innovation, and many more strategies to upcycle food waste are expected. The approaches would further help in conserving our already scarce resources, reducing costs, and minimizing our eco-footprint. 

If you have any questions or would like to know if we can help your business with its innovation challenges, please contact us here or email us at solutions@prescouter.com.

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