The Upcycled Food Movement Is Making a Major Impact in Reducing Food Waste—Here's How to Get Started

Maki Yazawa
·4 min read

Aside from the usual cans, plastics, and paper, recycling can go way beyond your typical packaging materials. Take your recycling game up a level by upcycling food to help combat climate change and reduce food waste. According to the Upcycled Food Association, "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 is an incredibly important initiative, as a staggering 6 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions come from food loss and waste, most of which is contributed by consumers themselves.

The Upcycled Food Association notes that upcycled foods are made from ingredients that would otherwise have ended up in a food waste destination. Currently, food wasted in our present food systems represents almost $1 trillion in losses globally each year. However, with a few simple lifestyle modifications, you can easily incorporate upcycling food into your daily routine. The impact is highly promising: Supporting upcycling practices has the potential to reduce up to 70 billion tons of greenhouse gases generated by food loss and waste. Here are five ways to join the movement—and help save the planet along the way.

Purchase Consumer Goods That Integrate Upcycling Into Their Products

You can help improve current food systems by shopping consciously and supporting businesses that incorporate upcycling into what they sell. There are endless (delicious) options, and new products targeted towards like-minded consumers are being released daily. Take Barnana, for example. Their banana-based snacks (like tortilla chips and cookie brittle) strive to use only “imperfect” bananas that “have scuffs and are a little too ripe, or aren’t the perfect size,” which are typically rejected for export. Meanwhile, Pulp Pantry creates tasty, veggie-based, and fiber-rich chips using leftover pulp from juicing vegetables that would otherwise go to waste. And, if you’re looking for an eco-friendly buzz, Citizen, a New Zealand-based brewery, makes craft beers using “rescued unsold bread to replace a quarter of the malted barley in each brew.” Talk about a win-win.

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Repurpose Foods You Typically Toss

You probably don’t think twice about tossing a banana peel once you’re done snacking on the fruit. However, did you know that you can actually turn it into yet another yummy, healthy dish? We can thank TikTok for this creative and upcycling-friendly hack that transforms leftover banana peels into a vegan faux bacon treat. And more practically, you can whirl your excess carrot or beet tops into a delicious pesto to garnish the roasted vegetable for a zero-waste side dish. You can also turn your leftover pumpkin seeds into a luscious butter-like spread by giving them a blitz in a food processor or blender. And don’t forget to use your citrus peels for an easy, DIY household cleaner. For a comprehensive guide to using up fresh produce, see here.

Purchase Upcycled Groceries

Companies like Imperfect Foods “fight food waste by finding a home for the imperfect or ‘ugly’ fruits and vegetables that farms couldn’t sell to grocery stores.” Typically, grocery stores opt for unblemished produce with the assumed “best” physical appeal for consumers. This tendency contributes to the “approximately 72 billion pounds of perfectly good food—from every point in the food production cycle—[that] ends up in landfills and incinerators every year,” according to Feeding America. To help cut these losses, Imperfect Foods sources perfectly imperfect produce to reduce food waste. Misfits Market is another excellent option for purchasing produce that would have been otherwise wasted.

Regrow Food Using Your Scraps

Not only does regrowing food using your scraps help reduce food waste, but it also helps lower your monthly food costs. Name a veggie and you bet you can grow it at home from scraps, seeds, or springs: Herbs, celery, lettuce, cabbage, potatoes, and leeks are all excellent options. Find our guide to getting started here.

Volunteer at a Food Rescue Organization

Help combat unnecessary food waste and aid in feeding those in need by volunteering or donating to your local food rescue organization. Easily locate food rescue programs near you online using Food Rescue Locator to find businesses near you that collect and redistribute food that would otherwise go to waste.

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