Limiting Food Waste With Upcycling

The Upcycled Food Association (UFA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing food waste, estimates that more than 30% of food produced around the world is wasted. In the United States alone, that equates to over 130 billion pounds wasted each year from spoilage, production inefficiencies, exposure, or simply consumers and businesses preparing more food than is needed. One of the ways this problem has started to be dealt with in recent years is through the principles of upcycling, an innovative way to target waste during the food production phase.

What Is Upcycling?     

The term upcycling is somewhat related to recycling, but recycling generally refers to the breakdown of waste by-products into a raw form that can then be used to make something new. Upcycling—particularly in the context of the food industry—is the repurposing of materials that would normally be discarded. In 2020, a team of experts from a range of organizations developed an official definition to help clarify the term for policy and research purposes:  

“Upcycled foods use ingredients that otherwise would not have gone to human consumption, are procured and produced using verifiable supply chains, and have a positive impact on the environment.”

This task force of experts further explored several key tenets of upcycling that capture its purpose and how it can be beneficial for food production and society in general:

  • It includes ingredients that would otherwise be treated as food waste and disposed of in landfills, incinerators, anaerobic digesters, or as animal feed.
  • Rather than simply negating a loss, upcycled food products can add value to the overall food system.
  • Upcycled foods are primarily for human consumption, though the ingredients might also potentially be used for pet food or industrial products.
  • By having an auditable supply chain, it can be ensured that upcycled foods are actually helping reduce waste and improving environmental outcomes related to climate change.
  • Upcycled certification, while still in its early stages, can give consumers confidence that they are purchasing new products at grocery stores that align with their values.

Because of a widespread increase in the concern about sustainability amongst consumers, there are more products than ever that come from upcycled ingredients. For example, Del Monte has developed products made with reused pineapple juice and Barnana makes snacks from imperfect bananas. The principles of upcycling are also used in the creation of ingredients that go into large scale food production. At FruitSmart, we process concord grapes to extract juices and essences. After that, the pomace—typically consisting of skins, pulp, and seeds—is then repurposed into dry fibers that can be added into a variety of other products.

What Are the Benefits of Upcycling?      

There’s no doubt that food upcycling is one of the current food trends that is expected to continue throughout 2023 and beyond, but it’s more than just the latest craze to be popular among foodies. Upcycling represents a concrete step toward reducing food waste and the consequences it brings. Below is a list of some of the benefits of food cycling that many people don’t realize:

  • Reduces greenhouse gas emissions: Even though food waste in the form of fruits and veggies is biodegradable, the unfortunate truth is that it still contributes to overall greenhouse gas emissions. When food rots, one of the effects is a release of methane gas, a compound that is more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide; the methane from rotting food is estimated to account for about 8% of all greenhouse gasses. Food upcycling can be part of reducing the amount of food wasted and by extension the amount of methane released into the atmosphere.
  • Limits deforestation: Reducing food waste and making additional food products from the same amount of raw materials ultimately equates to getting more for the same footprint. By land being used more efficiently in this way, it can limit the amount of deforestation that would normally be required for new farmlands. This has the added benefit of avoiding some loss of biodiversity and decreasing water pollution.
  • Increases food security: The USDA reports that over 10% of the U.S. population lives with food insecurity on a regular basis; that means households that are uncertain about being able to have food to provide for the family. Food upcycling can help unused perishable items into the hands of more families at the same time as reducing food costs overall.
  • Good for business: Perhaps the most practical benefit of food upcycling is that it makes good business sense. Food manufacturers expect a certain amount of food loss as simply a cost of doing business, but food upcycling can take some of that waste and lead directly to increased revenue. Moreover, the fact that more consumers are conscious of the social and environmental impact of their purchasing decisions means that offering upcycled products can be a new avenue for marketing. This aspect of upcycling is a significant factor in why both large corporations and small startups are looking to the future and finding ways to repurpose food waste.

Is Upcycled Food Just as Healthy?

Because upcycled food comes from elements of raw ingredients that are typically treated as waste, it may seem counterintuitive that the discarded parts would be healthy for consumption. Depending on the type of food considered, however, there is often considerable nutritional value to be found in the parts that can be upcycled. The skins, stems, seeds, peels, and other discards often have substantial fiber content, for instance, that can be recovered and added to other foods. In many cases, the upcycled components also include antioxidants that are known to confer a wide variety of health benefits. 

Examples of Food Upcycling

As the burgeoning upcycled food industry continues to grow, consumers will see more and more products with the Upcycled Certified label available that are made from high quality ingredients like those provided by FruitSmart; many of our fruit products—like blackberries and cranberries—yield upcycled dry ingredients that can be used in baked goods, snacks, beverages, and nutraceuticals. Below are some other new food upcycling examples:

  • Renewal Mill: this brand offers organic okara flour used in baking that is made from leftover soybean milk pulp
  • Blue Stripes: a whole range of products that come from upcycling the normally wasted parts of cacao beans
  • ReGrained: baking mixes that come from spent grain that is repurposed

Partner With FruitSmart

Food upcycling is more than just a hip new trend in the food industry; it represents a shift in thinking about how the food supply works and how we can adapt to the needs of the environment. FruitSmart offers a variety of premium ingredients that utilize upcycled components—they can be used as an additive in a wide variety of applications to impart both flavor and nutritional value. If you’d like to learn more about partnering with FruitSmart, please contact us today to discuss your needs.

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