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Waste Not
Meet 2 Companies Upcycling Food Waste to Make Beauty More Sustainable

Biotech startups Kaffe Bueno and The Upcycled Beauty Company are transforming food-manufacturing waste streams into high-quality ingredients for personal-care products.

According to Statista, the global beauty industry will generate about $129 billion in revenue by 2028, making it a major economic player.

But the impacts of the materials in the supply chains behind many personal-care products also make it a problematic player: The industry is notorious for generating copious amounts of plastic trash; consuming staggering amounts of water; and using hazardous chemicals and ingredients that fuel deforestation, such as palm oil.

While a growing number of beauty brands are embracing circular principles through alternative packaging materials and models, the environmental impact of the ingredients in our shampoos, scrubs and creams must also be addressed in order to future-proof beauty.

With this in mind, two bioscience companies are aiming to give the industry a new look by producing a host of common personal-care ingredients from food and beverage waste.

The Upcycled Beauty Company

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Image credit: Upcycled Beauty Company

Founded in 2017 and driven by a small and determined team — Anna Crovetto (ingredient specialist and Community Lead), Harry McIlwraith (chemist and General Manager) and Harrison Mulley (business support) — UK-based Upcycled Beauty Company’s envisions a future in which every beauty and personal-care product is made from upcycled materials — from ingredients to packaging.

“We want our website to be a hub for everything linked to the zero-waste movement,” McIlwraith told Sustainable Brands® (SB).

Upcycled Beauty works with customers across several industries to repurpose waste in their supply chains and has amassed an extensive portfolio of high-quality, alternative personal-care industry actives and ingredients made entirely from upcycled, plant-based leftovers.

Examples include water-soluble actives Barley TONIQ (anti-irritant) and Gin TONIQ (moisturizing), which are made from the byproducts of brewing and gin distillation, respectively. Apart from delivering up to three times more moisture than its conventional counterpart (glycerine), Gin TONIQ contains water reclaimed from the gin-making process; the company estimates that, for every bottle of gin produced, the ingredient diverts four liters of waste.

Charcoal CRUSH, ideal for skin and hair applications, takes upcycling to another level by giving already reclaimed waste another use: Through a partnership with restaurants gathering offcuts of sustainable oak to make charcoal, the company collects leftovers that are too small for the restaurants’ purposes yet perfect for producing exfoliants and powders.

And oil-soluble ingredients including Raspberry NECTA (rich in essential fatty acids and Vitamin E) and Blueberry NECTA (ideal for anti-aging and solar-protection products) are both made from leftover pomace from the juicing industry: “When the fruit is pressed for juice, we collect the pomace, dry it, separate the seeds and press those to produce our NECTA,” McIlwraith explained.

The company also partners with Marks & Spencer’s UK department store to turn spent grape pomace into an antioxidant active for M&S’ Natural Radiance skincare range.

Kaffe Bueno

Image credit: Kaffe Bueno

Meanwhile, Denmark-based Kaffe Bueno is focused on turning waste from one particular commodity into high-quality beauty materials: Coffee.

Raised in a country where coffee is cherished as a health enhancer, Colombian entrepreneurs Camilo Fernandez, Alejandro Franco and Juan Medina were inspired to show the beauty industry that coffee is much more than a beverage.

Unsettled by the finding that only 1 percent of the crop is used to make a cup, the trio founded Kaffe Bueno in 2016 with a mission to “transform this underutilized resource into valuable ingredients for the beauty industry, among others — aligning with their vision of coffee as a sustainable health elixir,” Noomi Mikkelsen, Kaffe Bueno’s Marketing and Branding Coordinator, told SB. “The realization that coffee grounds — rich in antioxidants, fatty acids and other beneficial compounds — were largely being wasted drove the founders to innovate.”

In 2019, Kaffe Bueno launched KAFFOIL — the world’s first upcycled, coffee-based ingredient for the personal-care market — which some in the industry have dubbed “the new argan oil.” Since then, the company has attracted major capital infusions from the Danish Innovation Fund, Paulig Group and global biorefinery leader Borregaard to scale operations.

The brand’s two primary ingredients, KAFFOIL and KAFFIBRE — a natural exfoliant developed to replace plastic microbeads — can now be found in the products of over 20 brands worldwide. KAFFOIL alone was used in Nivea’s Naturally Good face cream; in Sinatur HotelsRENLI, an in-house toiletry and skincare label made from the hotel’s spent coffee grounds; and Givaudan’s anti-aging oil, Koffee'Up.

One of its newer ingredients, KAFFAGE, is amphiphilic — meaning it reacts to both oil and water, making it easy for beauty formulators to use; on top of that, it’s SPF-boosting, antioxidant and can mimic a range of skin tones — making it an ideal ingredient for self-tanners, BB and CC creams, tinted moisturizers and other products surging in popularity as the beauty industry finally begins to become more inclusive.

“By partnering with influencers, stakeholders and industries that share a commitment to sustainability and health, Kaffe Bueno amplifies the message of upcycling and its benefits,” Mikkelsen said. Kaffe Bueno continues to broaden its global network with distribution partnerships with Maha Chemicals in Asia, US Integrity Ingredients Corporation, Canada’s Renechem Inc. and Amita Health in Spain; earlier this month, it opened the world’s first coffee biorefinery in Rødovre, Denmark.

Kaffe Bueno and the Upcycled Beauty Company are at the forefront of a growing movement that promises to beautify personal care with circular business models committed to utilizing raw materials to their highest potential.

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