Food scraps may get new life as clothing fibers

Here’s a new use for food scraps that didn’t quite make it onto the food waste reduction hierarchy: material for clothing.

Fast Company reports on how banana skins, pineapple leaves, and hemp stalks can be used for fibers to make clothing. While clothing made out of hemp has become more common in recent years, the idea of using hemp and other plant byproducts is more unusual.

The article features more information about an organization called Circular Systems, who was recently given a grant by the H&M Foundation to expand their operations. H&M has come under criticism in the past for being part of the “fast-fashion” phenomenon, but when a company of their magnitude makes a public commitment to more sustainable sourcing, or alternative material procurement, people are bound to take notice.

Circular systems is working on two types of technology: Agraloop, which converts food scraps into fiber, and Texloop, which recycles fabric scraps and used clothing into new fibers.

You can read more about Circular Systems’ work in the Fast Company article here.

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Legislative interventions for food waste on the menu in the United States

A story in USA Today details how state governments in the United States are working to keep food out of landfills and onto consumers’ plates.

The article outlines three broad ways that legislation has been enacted in certain regions of the States to reduce the amount of organic waste that ends up in a landfill:

  1. Tax breaks: Tax breaks are a way to incentivize those who produce waste to donate more product that may have originally been shipped to landfill without a second thought. By providing a tax incentive to donors, the government hopes to redirect edible food to people. Additionally, tax incentives may cause business owners to more carefully keep track of and monitor the amount of food being ordered and wasted, to not over order and therefore waste in the future.
  2. Cosmetic standards/Arbitrary Best Before dates: Much food waste is caused cosmetic blemishes to food, which have no affect on the tastiness or nutritional value of said food product. Loosening legislative cosmetic standards to food could go a long way to reduce unnecessary waste.
  3. Bans: Organic bans are a legislative measure which prohibit disposing of organic material, such as food waste, into landfills. They are already in place in small geographies such as Massachusetts. Bans can be useful in areas that have both a high density in population and a low amount of landfill space. They are most effective when they can be monitored by local authorities and enforced closely, with perhaps the threat of fines for not complying with the ban. Otherwise, they  may not be effective as organic waste producers will find other places to ship their waste.

You can read more about further legislative and corporate efforts to reduce food waste here.

Technological innovations work to address the issue of wasted food

As consumers become more aware of the amount of food that is being wasted not only in the home, but commercially as well, food retailers and restaurants are looking towards technology to ease the issue of waste.

Wasteless, capitalizing on “the internet of things,” is a startup that aims to be “the internet of groceries.” It does so by cataloging when a food is set to pass its best before or sell by date, and adjusts the price accordingly. The technology is automatic, saving the grocery store the time and staff resources to have to change the price manually. Food that is getting close to the end of its best by or sell by date can then be purchased at deep discounts by shoppers. By being able to sell the food instead of paying to dispose of it, it may assist grocery chains in reaching their “triple bottom line” of people, profit, and planet.

Additionally, this technology is working to help dispel some of the myths around best before dates, which many mistakenly believe refer to food safety. In reality, best before dates are indicators of freshness, and some do not even apply if the food has remained sealed/unopened.

More information about Wasteless can be found here.

Taiwan Embraces Alternative Garbage Collection Schemes

More from 99% Invisible: “Separation Anxiety” explores how the country of Taiwan has employed alternative recycling and garbage collection schemes that put the onus for reducing waste back on the consumer at the household level. Using a mix of strategies, the country has tremendously reduced the amount of garbage it produces compared to 20 years ago. Strategies include “polluter pay”: charging householders for state-sanctioned, official trash bags (the bigger the size of the bag, the more expensive it is), offering free organic and recycling pick-up, and fining those who do not sort their recycling properly.

Garbage trucks come around to neighborhoods in Taipei and other large cities multiple times a week, and multiple times a day (mostly in the evenings). It is the responsibility of the citizens to be ready when the truck arrives (which heralds its coming with a classical song such as Fur Elise). The garbage truck is followed by a recycling truck with separate containers for plastics, glass, paper, raw and cooked food waste, and more.

The inclusion of everyday citizens in daily flows of garbage removes the invisibility of waste that seems to characterize most “modern” cities. Would reclaiming waste from the margins of society and making it more visible change our current, wasteful practices?

“Best Before” Debate Continues

A 2013 study by Emily Broad Leib has received recent media coverage in the US on the podcast 99% Invisible.  Best before dates are confusing, contribute a great deal to food waste, and tend to be regulated sector-by-sector, rather than in a cohesive, comprehensive, federal way.

The episode gives a brief history of best before dates in the United States, and urges listeners to use more “common sense” when deciding when to throw out food such as milk or other refrigerated  products. It attempts to demystify a common fear of consumers: hearing a news story of a listeria outbreak, or a friend who contracted salmonella, and then looking to the date as the definitive “throw out” date.

The episode builds off growing interest in Best Before Dates in the US following a survey by the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, the National Consumer League and Johns Hopkins University Center for Livable Future. The survey reported that over 1/3 of adults regularly throw out food due to mistaken interpretations of what the Best Before Date means. Additionally, many respondents believed that Best Before Dates were federally mandated, even though a majority of date labeling is at the producer/distributor’s discretion.

Parts of Europe, especially in the UK, have made strides in banning all dates except for expiry dates in hopes that it will lead to less food waste at both the retailer and consumer levels. With the US EPA recently pledging to reduce food waste in half by 2030, a reform on inconsistent date labeling may be a good place to start.

For a list of media coverage relating to Leib’s study in particular, and food waste in general, check out Harvard Law School’s Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation here.

You can listen to the podcast here:

 

 

Starbucks Pledges to Donate 100% of Surplus Food

Starbucks, the largest coffee company in the United States, has recently pledged to donate 100% of their unused food to shelters, food banks, and charities over the next five years.

Although the company has donated food in the past, this initiative is a commitment to going beyond shelf-stable food and pastries to include perishable, “ready-to-eat” products that will be donated with the help of refrigerated trucks, with the hope that the food will be delivered to those in need within 24 hours of donating.

Previous concerns were about the viability of donating these perishable foods, especially in areas with warmer climates. Logistics for this scale of food donation can be daunting without the right equipment and rigorous commitment to quality along all levels of the supply chain.

Starbucks is partnering with Feeding America and Food Share for this initiative. More information can be found here: http://mashable.com/2016/03/22/starbucks-food-donations-foodshare/

Denmark opens “Surplus Food” Grocery Store

As we have been reporting in previous weeks, many countries in the European Union have been several steps to reduce food waste, primarily at the legislative level . France has opted for the “stick” approach, fining retailers for dumping instead of donating, while Italy has plans of a more “carrot” nature, with more incentives to retailers to donate rather than the fines.

Now Denmark is continuing to push boundaries by opening a new surplus food grocery store aimed at the general public. It’s called WeFood and it opened last month in Copenhagen. Food at the store is nearing or past its expiry date. The food is donated and the shop is run by volunteers. Profits from the food sold go to anti-hunger organizations all over the world.

You can read more about WeFood and what Denmark is planning for the future here.

From NPR: “A crowd waits on the sidewalk for the WeFood grocery store in Copenhagen to open. It’s not the first grocer in Europe to sell surplus food. But unlike so-called “social supermarkets” — stores that serve almost exclusively low-income people — WeFood’s offerings are very intentionally aimed at the general public. DanChurchAid”