Innovative Ways Companies Are Repurposing Food Waste

September 22, 2017

We love to brainstorm ways to cook with our food scraps, and this got us thinking about large-scale food producers and retailers, and how companies are addressing the issue of food waste. As consumers and retailers continue to dispose of nearly 1/3 of all food in the US (the equivalent of $160 billion), the movement towards turning waste into edibles is growing. Below, we've highlighted a few foods that have traditionally been thrown away, and how they're being transformed into unexpected foods today.

spent grains

Spent grains are all the leftover malt after beer has been extracted from the mash; they make up nearly 85% of a brewery's byproduct. Many breweries try to re-purpose these residual grains by giving them to local farms to use as compost or feed, but there's too much spent grain being produced to use it all. However, a few companies are finding creative solutions to use up these surplus ingredients.

ReGrained granola bars, a way to drink beer and eat it too. Photo by ReGrained

ReGrained saw an opportunity in the nutritional qualities of spent grain. It has almost as much protein as almonds, three times the amount of fiber than oatmeal, and is low in sugar. Granola bars are made with these ingredients for flavors like Honey Cinnamon IPA and Chocolate Coffee Stout. ReGrained is developing other products to include bread, cookies, cereal, and chips.

Rise flour is based in Brooklyn, New York, and collects spent grain from local breweries to make barley flour. The flour takes on the flavors and scents of the original brews. Flours made from ales taste nutty and light, for example, and porters make dark and rich flours that smell like chocolate. (King Arthur Flour has some useful tips on when to replace AP flour with barley flour, and community member AntoniaJames has a mean recipe for Ricotta Whey and Barley Bread).

Dog owners can also benefit. Doggie Beer Bones makes natural dog treats from locally sourced spent brewing grains. Flavors include malted barley, peanut butter, egg, and barley flour.

bread to beer

Many people aren't sure how to store fresh bread, which is why it's one of the most wasted household food items in the US. The Guardian reports that bread is also one of the main pantry items wasted in the UK, with 24 million slices of bread thrown away from households every day. Love Food Hate Waste found that almost 20% of UK households admitted to throwing away entire loaves of bread before even opening the package!

Photo by Our Name is Farm

Several breweries across the US and Europe are now taking these scraps and making beer. Toast Beer is based in New York City and works with some of the city's best bakeries to use up surplus loaves. Toast is currently developing a new line of NYC-based brews through partnering with Bread Alone, a family-owned bakery that bakes exclusively with organic wheat. It's important to note that Toast doesn't take bread that can be used to feed people, and is only used for their beer products if no other ways to re-distribute the bread is possible.

coffee husks become tea

Billions of pounds of coffee fruit are thrown away every year. Cascara is a tea made by brewing the otherwise thrown out dried coffee husks that are gathered after the beans have been removed for coffee production. Because cascara is made from the coffee fruit, the tea is also high in caffeine but lends a fruity flavor. Drinking cascara has been popularized over the past decade as more cafes across the country are offering this beverage. You may have even noticed cascara lattes on the menu at your local Starbucks.

Photo by Nomad Trading Co

Nomad Trading Co., one of the companies brewing this coffee-tea infusion, sources their coffee husks from small organic farmers in Costa Rica. To promote sustainable and social impact initiatives, the company considers the farmer's agronomic practices and trades directly with farmers to ensure they are paid fairly.

coffee grounds

Coffee grounds could be used for more than composting; in fact, they could be the source of cleaner biofuels. But as of now, 9 million tons of spent coffee grounds are sent to landfills every year.

Grow mushrooms right out of a box filled with spent coffee grounds. Photo by GroCycle

GroCycle, based out of Devon in the UK, has been growing oyster mushrooms from spent coffee grounds since 2011. They've since expanded and started an urban mushroom farm where hundreds of pounds of used coffee grounds are collected for growing oyster mushrooms; the harvest is sold to local restaurants and markets, and the waste from the farming process is then turned into compost. Last year, over 65,000 pounds of coffee grounds have been recycled and turned into 7 tons of oyster mushrooms. GroCycle has also designed a DIY mushroom kit for you to try at home, the first batch of oyster mushrooms can be harvested after roughly 2 weeks of opening the box.

ugly foods

Over 20 billion pounds of fresh produce goes unharvested or unsold every year because they're deemed too ugly for retail. Grocery stores have started to pop up across the world that are trying to address waste by selling this produce at a discounted cost.

Fruits and vegetables deemed wrong in size, shape, or color are turned into fresh, cold-pressed juices. Photo by Misfit Juicery

Misfit Juicery is a Washington, DC–based pressed juice company that uses 70–80% recovered fruits, vegetables, and scrap waste salvaged from food processors that make pre-cut packaged foods like carrot sticks. Misfit Juicery's goal is to offer fresh juices but also to help draw attention and fix the food waste that is occurring in the agricultural sector.

Unwanted produce in snack form. Photo by Fruitcycle, Rubies in the Rubble

Fruit Cycle was created after the founders made a trip to their local apple orchard and saw thousands of pounds of fruit going to waste. The company's mission started with finding ways to use all the unwanted apples by making apple chips, but their product line now includes kale chips, trail mix, and cookies, too. To maximize social impact, they offer employment to women who've been incarcerated, homeless, or are otherwise disadvantaged.

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Similarly, the UK-based company Rubies In The Rubble began when their founder, Jenny, became overwhelmed by all the news she read about global food waste, and wanted to make a change. The company recovers aesthetically imperfect fruits and vegetables and turns them into an array of relishes and sauces. "Some say it's a load of rubbish, we take that as a condiment," is one of their clever slogans.

vegetable + fruit pulps

Juicing imperfect fruits and vegetables is already one great step in minimizing waste, but many people juice and throw out all the pulp that's leftover. The pulp actually keeps much of its vitamin content and fiber; the problem is just that most of us don't know what to do with it.

We'd like to sprinkle Jrink's Furakake onto soups, salads, or avocado toast. Photo by Jrink

Washington, DC–based Jrink Juicery creates a lot of pulp from their cold pressed juices. Toki Underground, a local ramen restaurant, creates an excess of kale stems they don't know what to do with. So a partnership was struck when both businesses realized they could make something with their scraps combined. Ginger and kale pulp is now used to make a Japanese seasoning they sell as furakake, a twist on the traditional Japanese savory condiment used to sprinkle over rice and soups.

Local business are catching on, too.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

University of Maryland students founded Recovery Food Network, which engages college students to recover excess foods from their dining halls and donate it to hunger-fighting nonprofits in the Washington, DC area. They also spun off a Recovered Food CSA to help local farmers distribute imperfect produce that otherwise wouldn't make it to regular CSA boxes. Students across the country are able to start their own local chapter through the website.

Photo by Salt & Straw

Salt & Straw, the popular ice cream shop based in Portland, Oregon, has teamed up with local purveyors to re-imagine ice cream flavors by incorporating a bevy of food scraps. Flavors include toasted bread and jam, made from rescued bread and berries; salted whey with lemon curd, made from excess whey from local cheesemongers; celery root and celery leaf from discarded tips; spent grain with streaks of bacon and marshmallow fluff; and vegan cherry ambrosia, made from a nearby whiskey distillery's leftovers.

Everyone drinks almond milk these days, but what happens to all that nut pulp? RareSweets in Washington, DC, buys almond meal from almond milk producers and incorporates it into their gluten-free treats! You can just as easily make your own almond milk at home, and re-purpose the pulp, too.

What foods have you tried that were made from otherwise wasted foods? Do tell!

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Lyna Vuong

Written by: Lyna Vuong

I'm a food studies grad student, cook, and interior designer. (I love a colorful palate/palette!)

1 Comment

Josh I. September 22, 2017
This article is awesome! I especially love the bit about reusing coffee grounds. Augusta Locally Grown out of Augusta GA is using coffee grounds for compost for raised beds, but I love the idea of using them to grow oyster mushrooms, or mushrooms in general.