• One-third of all the food produced in the world is going to waste.
  • But innovative companies are finding ways to utilize that waste.
  • A Spanish start-up is making a skincare range from ‘ugly’ fruit.
  • And food waste is being turned into sustainable textiles for the fashion industry.

An estimated one-third of all the food produced in the world is simply going to waste, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Putting an end to that waste would clearly help address the issue of world hunger, which is one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. In the meantime, finding innovative ways to put food waste to productive use is helping create jobs and improve sustainability.

These four diverse projects show how clothing, cosmetics and commercial opportunities can be powered by food waste.

a chart showing that approximately 14% of food goes to waste
Food waste should be repurposed for a more sustainable planet.
Image: Statista

Not so ‘ugly’ fruit

Have you ever considered applying food waste to your face? Spanish designer Júlia Roca Vera hopes that one day you will. She has created a range of cosmetics, including cleansers and moisturizers, based on unwanted foodstuff. In this case though, rather than use waste, the raw material she uses is fruit that has been considered too ugly to appeal to shoppers – prompting Roca Vera to name her new venture Lleig, which means ugly in Catalan. The products are sold in reusable, ceramic containers to enhance their sustainability.

An alternative to polyester

Toronto-based Alt Tex is a start-up producing polylactic acid (PLA) from food waste, to form an alternative to polyester. The starch and sugars from unwanted food are ideal for the production of PLA, Alt Tex says. Unlike polyester, PLA is a biodegradable plastic substitute. And unlike some other makers of PLA, which use commercially grown PLA crops like corn, Alt Tex is working with the food and drink industry to collect, and use, waste.

Circular economy

What is a circular economy?

The global population is expected to reach close to 9 billion people by 2030 – inclusive of 3 billion new middle-class consumers.This places unprecedented pressure on natural resources to meet future consumer demand.

A circular economy is an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design. It replaces the end-of-life concept with restoration, shifts towards the use of renewable energy, eliminates the use of toxic chemicals and aims for the elimination of waste through the superior design of materials, products, systems and business models.

Nothing that is made in a circular economy becomes waste, moving away from our current linear ‘take-make-dispose’ economy. The circular economy’s potential for innovation, job creation and economic development is huge: estimates indicate a trillion-dollar opportunity.

The World Economic Forum has collaborated with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for a number of years to accelerate the Circular Economy transition through Project MainStream - a CEO-led initiative that helps to scale business driven circular economy innovations.

Join our project, part of the World Economic Forum’s Shaping the Future of Environment and Natural Resource Security System Initiative, by contacting us to become a member or partner.

And an alternative to plastic

Another Toronto-based start-up company working with food waste is Genecis. Using bacteria, Genecis is converting food waste into a polymer that can be used as an alternative to plastic packaging, called polyhydroxyalkanoate or PHA.

“Food waste is pretty much a concentration of carbons, very similar to crude oil from the ground, that you can make a lot of products out of. We thought with today’s technology, we can convert the carbon from food waste as a really low-cost feedstock into high-value chemicals and materials,” Genecis CEO Luna Yu told Fast Company.

A whole new supply chain

Food waste occurs at every stage in the supply chain and for many different reasons. It can be for superficial reasons, like appearance, or it can be because of oversupply and poor storage.

For female farmers in Kenya and Uganda, these are both significant challenges. The East African start-up Agricycle began with a simple-to-use solar dehydrator that allowed fruit farmers to turn perishable produce into a longer-lasting dry-fruit snack food.

Since then, it has developed a separate business to buy and market the dried fruit, selling it to stores in the US. “We’ve created just under 7,000 livelihoods to date, and they make between seven to 10 times the average daily wage,” Agricycle founder and CEO Josh Shefner told Fast Company.