Reduce, Reuse, Recycle—Creative Ways to Cut Food Waste

February 6, 2018

Imagine filling up your grocery cart, then throwing away a third of your purchases on the way out the door. Sounds absurd, right? The sad fact is, that’s the current reality in global food production, where the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates 30 to 40 percent of what’s produced each year never reaches consumers’ dinner plates.

This waste is a result of a combination of factors throughout the product lifecycle—from poor harvest management, to overemphasis on “perfect” appearance, to overbuying by consumers. For consumers in developed nations, these losses may seem of little consequence, as food is still aplenty. But in fact they have broad-reaching effects on the environment, farmers’ livelihood and future food security. Fortunately, a growing number of retailers, brands and consumers are standing up and taking notice.

One way some progressive retailers have already started to lead the charge in reducing food waste is through the development of “ugly” produce programs. These programs sell cosmetically less-than-perfect, but still perfectly healthy produce at a discount compared to traditional produce. Misfit Juicery is a brand taking a similar approach—making all of its cold-pressed juice blends from at least 70 percent imperfect produce and scraps, such as small pieces of carrots leftover from making carrot sticks.

But produce isn’t the only area innovative brands are targeting. Take Toast Ale, which brews beer from stale bread. Based in the United Kingdom, Toast Ale has devised a method of replacing one-third of the barley traditionally used to make beer with unsold bread loaves and end cuts from local bakeries. To date, the company estimates it has saved over 20,000 pounds of bread from being wasted.

A U.S.-based startup called Canvas, part of ZxVentures, the venture group of Anheuser-Busch InBev, is also looking to beer to aid in the reduction of food waste. Their focus isn’t on brewing; rather it is on reusing some of the millions of tons of spent grain leftover from the beer brewing process each year to produce another beverage—barley milk. The plant-based milk is made up of about 50 percent of spent grain and offers several unique nutritional benefits, including up to 13 grams of fiber and 10 grams of protein per 12-ounce serving.

It isn’t just food and beverage companies that are getting on the waste-reduction bandwagon. In 2017, the National Resources Defense Council and the Ad Council teamed up to create a “skill” designed for use with Amazon’s popular home assistant, Alexa. Called “Save the Food,” the skill (similar to a smartphone app) encourages consumers to use Alexa to help with food waste reduction by relying on her for tips to help make food last longer, determine whether an item is still good, and even revive things (like wilted celery or lettuce) when they’re past their prime.

There’s still a long way to go when it comes to cutting back on the 2.8 billion pounds of food that are wasted globally each year. But if these programs and products are any indication of what’s to come—the future looks bright for retailers and brands who put their hats in the ring to become better savers—and better stewards of the earth.