A second life for fruit and vegetable waste

“Shall we throw it away now, or put it in the fridge until it comes out by itself?” we used to joke when we had leftovers in our student days. It happened just a little too often that we would find bowls with mouldy sauces or wilted salads at the back of our fridge.

Because the state of my fridge didn’t change in the years that followed, I decided to take action about ten years ago. I only bought what I needed, started preparing tailor-made meals, made soup or smoothies from veggies and fruit that had passed their prime, and shared what was left with friends. That helped. I hardly had to throw away any food and felt I was doing a pretty good job. But in the bigger scope of things, my efforts were just a drop in the ocean. After all, we throw away one third of all the food we produce worldwide – ‘we’ being producers, restaurants, supermarkets and households. This adds up to a shocking 1.3 billion tonnes a year.

In later years, various organisations were founded to combat food waste. Stichting Thuisgekookt
offers the possibility of sharing meals with your neighbours through a user-friendly platform, and the restaurant Instock prepares meals with surplus products from supermarkets. Kromkommer started making soup from ‘ugly’ or rejected vegetables that would normally have ended up in the rubbish bin, inspiring supermarkets to set up a corner for misshapen carrots and damaged tomatoes – for sale at a discount.

At the same time, there was growing attention for residual waste, with fruit and vegetable waste being used as a raw material for a whole range of new products. The sisters Angela and Cathy of Food for Skin, for example, started a skin care line for men and women using zero waste and microplastic-free products based on organic vegetables, such rejected avocados or tomato waste from an Italian tomato sauce factory.

De Clique is a company that helps its customers separate and collect waste, enabling them to process the organic waste themselves. They grow oyster mushrooms on coffee grounds, for example, or make high-quality compost, creating fertile soil for growing tea herbs. De Clique returns the new products to the companies that provided their waste. And the brand Komrads makes trainers from apple and pear eco leather using the residual waste of fruit growers.

It’s an interesting idea that we can rub the waste materials of the food industry on our face, that we can wear them and use them to make new products. But let’s not forget the bowls at the back of our fridges in 2021.

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Asceline Groot is ondernemer bij hetkanWEL, schrijfster van ‘Het Nieuwe Groen’ en PhD kandidaat aan de Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen. In haar columns schrijft zij over (start-up) sociale ondernemingen en trends en ontwikkelingen op het gebied van duurzaamheid.