Millions of tons of waste: the food industry produces a huge amount every year. With a very high cost both in economic and management terms for the same industry, and regarding the environmental impact.
Therefore, the road to a more sustainable food industry system also passes through the recovery and enhancement of this waste.
It is not a coincidence that in recent years several lines of research, with the aim to reuse and optimize waste have been activated. There are many innovative ideas; entrepreneurs and startups that have decided to transform the weak point of the agri-food chain into economic and environmental potential. The world of reusing is wide: it starts from the creation of fabrics, goes through the creation of bioplastics and lands in the production of other products. The most used wastes are those from the fruit, vegetable, and dairy sector.
For example, starting from the waste of the orange, bergamot and mandarin industry (so-called pastazzo) and through a process of cellulose extraction and subsequent spinning, it is possible to obtain a yarn that can be used for the creation of special silk-like fabric. It seems to have also beneficial effects on the skin as they release vitamins A, C and E [OrangeFiber].
Even the waste from the dairy industry is particularly suitable for processing. Already in the 1930s, thanks to the discovery of the Italian engineer Antonio Farretti, the first textile fiber derived from milk was made, more precisely from caseins. The fabric obtained was similar to wool in warmth and softness [Lanital]. However, in the 1960s, the advent of synthetic fibers derived from petroleum (whose production was less expensive) was responsible for the disappearance of this fiber. But in recent years the fabric has been rediscovered thanks to the German biologist and fashion designer Anke Domaske who, using the waste from the dairy industry, has created a fabric similar to silk, 100% sustainable (with significant water savings) [Qmilk]. Even in this case, the skin benefits because the milk amino acids that remain in the fiber, nourish and moisturize the epidermis.
Even from pineapple, more precisely from discarded leaves, a fabric can be obtained (Piñatex®). The material was created by Carmen Hijosa who used and optimized an existing Philippine method. The pineapple leaves are peeled obtaining fibers. These are then washed, dried and through an industrial process a fabric very similar to leather is obtained. But unlike leather, this fabric does not require the use of polluting substances in its production process and moreover, at the end of the cycle of use, it is compostable, minimizing the environmental impact of production [Piñatex® by Ananas Anam].
Food waste can also be used to produce bioplastics. The most used are those containing starch, a naturally occurring polysaccharide, such as potatoes, wheat and corn.
Although the bioplastics on the market are mainly composed of corn flour or starch, wheat or other cereals, startups attempting to use food waste to obtain this material are more and more frequent (for example from artichokes, oranges, hemp, milk, coffee, parsley and cinnamon).
Food waste can also be used to obtain ingredients for new foods. For example, from mango waste two Mexican boys obtained a highly nutritious powder. This powder can be used as a sweetener, or as an emulsifier in confectionery in order to replace 50% of the eggs and fats usually used, or, again, instead of pectin and anti-foaming agents in jams and jellies [EatLimmo].
Not only from cereals, but also from the waste from the brewing process, a Californian start-up obtained protein-rich, low-calorie and rich in fiber snack bars [Regrained].
Finally, using more or less aggressive techniques, it is possible to extract compounds such as essential oils, antioxidants, phenolic compounds, vitamins, pectins, fibers, sugars and others from food waste that can find ample space in the pharmaceutical, cosmetic and nutritional sector.
The world of reusing food waste is vast and for reaching in many different directions. Almost all waste can have a second life: who knows what the next one will be and what product it will turn into.