Meet the people doing cool things with food waste
In a world full of waste, we look at pioneers in food, fashion and coffee conjuring magic with discards and byproducts
Published: Monday 18th September 2017
Throughout the food production process, roughly a third of all produce goes to waste – whether it's wonky-looking veg unfit for supermarket shelves, excess animal hides from meat processing or a byproduct deemed surplus to requirements at some point between harvest and plate.
But it doesn't have to be this way – with a little ingenuity it's possible to make something perfectly palatable (and sometimes even wearable) with produce that would otherwise end up in landfill.
Here are just a few of the people doing just that...
While veg-forward eating is widely being touted as a possible answer to sustainability issues, there's no getting around the fact that meat still forms a large part of the British diet. That makes it even more imperative for us to ensure we get the most out of everything we're eating, from nose-to-tail cooking to getting creative with byproducts.
Luxury brand Billy Tannery agrees. Using kid goat leather that would previously have been thrown away, it creates butter-soft, vegetable-tanned goods including stamped card holders, chic journals, a tote (called the Gote, obvs) and a rolltop backpack.
Even better, the hides come from Cabrito, a company already helping to battle wastage by creating a market for meat from the males (billies) born to dairy goats, which would otherwise be killed at birth.
Ellie's Dairy, too, has the hides of its dairy goats saved and turned into everything from rugs and throws to dog blankets and wheelchair seats that you can buy from its stall in Borough Market. Sustainable style? You goat this. (Sorry not sorry).
Elsewhere, Woolcool uses sheep's wool to create a natural insulation material that you might be familiar with from Abel & Cole's veg and meat boxes, among other delivery services. It turns out that wool keeps food below that all-important 5°C for at least 24 hours – which puts it streets ahead of polystyrene. It also serves as padding, and can be reused again and again. We've even started using ours in our picnic basket.
Whether we decide to cut the tops off things like leeks and carrots when they can still be eaten, or don't use an item of fruit or veg because it's deemed 'wonky', a hell of a lot of food is ending up in the bin rather than on our plates. That's why a handful of enterprising people are discovering ways to put these wasted materials to good use.
First up is Dr Carmen Hijosa, founder of Ananas Anam, who has found a way to create a fabric out of the pineapple leaves that are removed from the plant when it's harvested.
Pinatex, the resultant product, is a strong, breathable, leather-like material that can be used for everything from handbags to car seats. And, if you wanted proof it's really cool, Puma loved the fabric enough to use it to create an entire range of its iconic sneakers.
And that's not the only company getting fruity with fashion. Orange Fiber is using the 700,000 tonnes of peel that's discarded during Sicily's citrus harvest each year to spin a soft and shiny material that's not too dissimilar to silk – and it's even good for you, as it retains vitamin C that'll nourish your skin. Luxury fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo is the first to jump on board this particularly gravy (or should we say juice?) train with a collection made exclusively with the sustainable fabric.
If fashion isn't your forté, PaperWise is manufacturing paper – from office supplies to disposable street-food containers – that's made entirely out of agricultural waste that would otherwise be burnt. The benefits here are four for the price of one: waste is put to good use; less land is needed; you get both food and paper from one plant; and fewer trees end up being cut down, which means they can thrive – absorbing CO2, creating oxygen and maintaining biodiversity. That's our kind of multitasking.
Fruit and vegetable waste
As much as 40% of a crop of vegetables can end up getting chucked away because is isn't quite pretty enough for supermarkets, but with a little searching, you can still find sustainable grub on shop shelves without specifically seeking out a wonky veg box.
A great example is sauce-making pioneer Rubies in the Rubble, which has saved more than 85,000 pieces of fruit and veg from landfill by turning less-than-gorgeous veg into jars of tasty chutney, piccalilli and relish. As well as using plenty of surplus cucumbers, onions and tomatoes in its range of sauces, the company uses overripe fruit for other curious condiments like banana ketchup and blueberry barbecue sauce.
In much the same way, Dash Water infuses pure British spring water with wonky cucumbers and lemons to make its refreshingly sustainable, sugar-free drinks.
Around London, meanwhile, Fruit Magpie scours urban gardens and allotments for in-season fruit, turning it into fruit cheese – a firm, sliceable preserve that goes well with cheese (duh) but also works as a barbecue glaze. Similarly, The Urban Cordial concocts a huge range of core and seasonal drinks from farm surplus. They might not be as quite as pretty as your average cordials, but we always learned it's what's inside that counts.
As a nation we drink about 55 million cups of coffee every single day, which means we're sending tonnes of steaming grounds straight to landfill, too. And although many cafés are fighting back by handing out free bags of nitrogen-rich used coffee for punters to use as garden compost, such measures just aren't having enough of an impact.
Enter Optiat, a cosmetics company that has started hand-sourcing excess arabica from London's finest cafés, bars and restaurants, combining their antioxidant, exfoliating powers with great smelling essential oils like lemongrass, mint and mandarin to turn them into body scrubs.
Handily, coffee has the same acidity level as your skin and the caffeine helps increase blood-flow, which means Optiat's products provide great relief for cellulite and skin conditions like eczema and acne.
Clothes manufacturer Sundried, meanwhile, uses grounds to make activewear that's fast-drying, wicking and deodorising. All you need to make the yarn is low-level heat and a hell of a lot of pressure, which means less CO2 emissions in the manufacturing process, too. The biggest win, however, is that you won't come back from the gym smelling like an overworked barista.
But it goes way further than just using the byproducts of your morning pick-me-up, because coffee farming wastes coffee cherries by the ton, too. Although the flesh that surrounds each harvested bean is sometimes used to make a fruity tea called cascara in coffee-growing countries like Colombia and Bolivia, the drink's popularity hasn't caught on enough worldwide to make it a legitimate approach to battling waste. That's why CRU Kafe has started drying and milling coffee cherries to create a flavour-rich, gluten-free coffee flour that's higher in protein than fresh kale, packed with antioxidants and more fibrous than whole-grain wheat flour. Not bad at all.