Food waste has been one of the trendiest topics in sustainability of late, as more and more people have become aware that as much as one third of the world’s food is being wasted. The UN set a target to halve global food waste as one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which the CEOs of Nestlé, Tesco, Unilever, and other leaders formed Champions 12.3 to pursue. Celebrity chefs have raised awareness through pop-up restaurants and television series. Grocers and food retailers have launched campaigns to sell imperfect produce and redistribute surplus products as steps to reduce their waste.
Startups are realizing that there are big opportunities in the space as the world clamors to tackle the problem. Some intervene at the farm, such as by putting “ugly” watermelons to good use, but two new initiatives in the UK are intervening after the shop.
Food waste charity Feedback partnered with Hackney Brewery to launch a quality pale ale that is made from surplus loaves of bread: Toast Ale. Feedback founder Tristram Stuart got the idea from a Belgian brewer who follows the same process and wanted to replicate the model in the UK. Bread is thought to be the most wasted food item amid the UK’s estimated 15 million tonnes of annual food waste from households and the commercial sector. An estimated 24 million slices of bread are currently thrown out every day by UK households.
“Tackling the global issue of food waste has taken me all over the world,” Stuart told The Guardian. “We hope to eventually put ourselves out of business. The day there’s no waste bread is the day Toast ale can no longer exist.”
How startups are paving the way to a food waste-free world
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Discarded bread crusts and unsold loaves from bakeries, delicatessens and supermarkets are sliced and mashed into breadcrumbs, toasted, and then brewed with malted barley, hops and yeast to make the beer. “The toasted bread adds caramel notes that balance the bitter hops, giving a malty taste similar to amber ales,” according to The Guardian. Each 330ml bottle of Toast uses about one slice of surplus bread and all profits from the £3 per bottle ale go to Feedback.
“The important thing for us, as brewers, was to create a beer that tasted good and stood up against other craft beers. We worked hard to brew a beer that wasn’t just a fad but something that people could enjoy time after time and would have a significant impact,” Hackney Brewery co-founder Jon Swain said.
Meanwhile, Tiny Leaf, a new organic, vegetarian restaurant in London is operating with a zero-waste model. The restaurant is sourcing surplus food stock from “local food suppliers and supermarkets, farms, distributors, plant breeders and retailers.” The Londonist reports that the menus change on a daily basis due to the unpredictable nature of deliveries.
As much as possible will be used in food and drink: Vegetable peels will be made into crisps, citrus will be made into oils, and husks will be dehydrated for use in curries and as garnish. Diners will be able to take leftovers home in free biodegradable containers made from vegetable polymers.
The venue will also host events such as food-conscious documentary screenings and talks on subjects such as organic farming and soil health; waste from renovations to prepare the space were recycled by The Good Rubbish Company.
As if that isn’t enough, 20p per litre of Tiny Leaf’s bottled water will be donated to Whole World Water, an organization focused on providing clean water supplies, and the restaurant will match each £1 voluntary donation added to the bill, with proceeds going to Refugee Community Kitchen Calais and the Soil Association.
Justin Horne, a chef, writer, food activist, and the dreamer behind Tiny Leaf, says he aims to “change people’s perception of what waste is, then we can change out how much waste we create,” as well as “educate, inspire and also have some fun in exploring this new approach to food,” through the restaurant. General Manager Jonathan Krauss is helping him realize his vision.