Photo: Circular Systems.

Earlier this week, I read a fascinating piece by Fast Company predicting that the fashion of the future would be made from food waste. They were referencing Agraloop, a technology from Circular Systems which turns food crop waste, such as sugar cane bark, pineapple leaves, and hemp stalks, into low-cost natural fibers.

By diverting food waste from five widespread cash crops into a new production channel, Agraloop would be able to create 250M tons of natural fiber annually while reducing crop burn pollution and methane emissions. This April, Circular Systems won a $350,000 Global Change Award grant from the H&M Foundation to scale up its operations and is in the midst of developing partnerships with global brands like H&M and Levis.

I for one am very intrigued by the idea of wearing banana tree trunks and pineapple leaves. But reading up on this sustainable textile company — which turns a massive waste issue into a high-value product — got me thinking about other companies using creative methods to repurpose food waste into both edible and non-edible products.

Aeropowder turns surplus feathers, a byproduct of the poultry industry, into packaging insulators for things like meal kits. They’re a double waste-fighting whammy, since they not only upcycle poultry waste, but also reduce the amount of non-biodegradable packaging needed for cold food transport. Biobean repurposes spent coffee grains from millions of cups of joe into logs and biomass pellets to fuel fireplaces.

There are also quite a few companies turning one type of food waste into edible products. Toast Ale transforms bread waste from local bakeries — the stuff that’s left after they’ve donated all the loaves that they can to shelters and food pantries — into IPA’s and Pale Ales. Not only do they divert bread, one of the most wasted food items, from landfills, they also reduce the amount of grains needed to brew beer.

Moving the other way in the brewing supply chain, Regrained takes spent grain from the beer brewing process and turns it into protein bars. Snact turns surplus produce into fruit snacks like chewy jerky and banana bars. Misfit and Rubies in the Rubble both make use of produce that doesn’t meet supermarket’s aesthetic standards — the former in bottled juices, the latter in jams and chutneys.

Tyson Foods recently developed a protein crisp snack made out of food waste, such as chicken breast trim and post-juicing vegetable purée. The “¡Yappah!” snacks launched on IndieGoGo in May and are projected to ship in July of this year.

As we’re all (hopefully) aware by now, food waste from all points on the supply chain — post-harvest, grocery store, in the restaurant and in the home — is massive. If we’re ever going to reduce the roughly 1.3 billion tons of food we waste globally, we’ve got to tackle it from all angles: from reselling leftover food from cafés to better managing Sell-By labels to spinning hemp stalks into fabric.

P.S. If you’re interested in out-of-the-box ways to fight food waste, come talk Food Waste Solutions at our free food tech meetup later this month in Seattle.

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