The global economy is only around 9% circular. In other words, of all the new material that humans extract from the planet in a year, only 9% is recycled. The other 91% is dumped, released into the atmosphere or joins an ever-growing mound of stuff.
This is bad news for the planet. We urgently need a more circular economy to reduce both raw resource use and waste. It’s also a huge business opportunity. Why dump waste when it could be turned into food or other valuable products?
Here’s six British circular economy food initiatives, doing just that.
Rescuing Unloved Fruit and Veg
Supermarkets often waste food by rejecting fruit and veg that isn’t the right size, shape or colour. Cardiff-based Get Wonky wants to end the waste.
They turn misshapen strawberries and odd-shaped apples into additive-free juices. Supermarkets are cottoning on to the idea as well: some have launched “wonky veg” ranges, often cheaper than the standard selections.
The Pineapple Trend That Shows No Signs of Stopping
London-based Ananas Anam are going circular with pineapples. They turn pineapple leaf fibre, left over during farming, into Piñatex, a leather-like fabric.
Piñatex can be made into bags, watch straps, shoes and coats. All without the harmful environmental impacts or ethical concerns of conventional leather. The fabric is currently coated with non-biodegradable materials but the team are working on making Piñatex fully biodegradable.
Another plus? Leather alternatives for vegans – shoe shopping can be a nightmare. At £199 for one pair of shoes, it might be some time before I can put Piñatex through its paces, but it’s all progress!
All in One Fish and Chips?
Wild fish stocks are under immense pressure from overfishing. Even farmed fish add to the problem, because they are often fed on wild fish. Given the impact of bringing fish to market, it doesn’t make sense for fishmongers to throw away edible fish parts such as the nutrient-packed skin.
SeaChips makes crisps from salmon skin offcuts that would otherwise go to waste. You can buy SeaChips crisps in London at Harrods and Whole Foods, or at Fenwick in Newcastle.
Can Food Packaging be Circular Too?
Black plastic used for ready meals often ends up in landfill along with other non-recyclable materials. But Swindon-based Recycling Technologies hopes to change that.
They have devised a process which breaks down mixed plastics into smaller molecules. These are then turned into useful industrial oils and waxes. One day they might be able to recycle plastic from landfill sites or even sweep up plastic from the oceans.
What About the Scourge of Plastic Bottles?
Plastic bottles are a huge environmental problem. One million plastic bottles are bought every minute. 16 million bottles are thrown away, in the UK alone, every day. And it’s estimated that 11,000 pieces of plastic enter the human food chain each year. This is because there is so much plastic in the oceans, that is then eaten by the fish we eat.
But design firm Pentatonic, based in London and Berlin, is making beautifully crafted products from that waste. Plastic bottles are turned into cushions, wallets and chairs. Old smartphone screens into elegant glassware and even cigarette butts into jewellery.
Pentatonic’s furniture is modular, so you can easily swap your colours around. Each component is made from one material, so that it can be easily recycled at the end of its life.
Another business recycling plastic bottles is Berkshire-based perPETual. They turn plastic bottles into yarn, which can then be made into different fabrics. Since 2015, they’ve recycled over 1.6 billion bottles! Their customers include well-known names such as H&M, Adidas and Decathlon.
Sweet Circular Economy Food Initiatives
When sugar beet is processed to make sugar, the leftover pulp often goes to waste. CelluComp, based in Fife, has a better idea. Their process turns waste sugar beet pulp and carrot into a material called Curran®. The cellulose fibres in the product give it all sorts of useful properties. Curran® is currently added to paints, cosmetics and even fishing rods.
Useful Circular Economy Resources
You can also take a look at our ideas for reducing plastic use. If you have your own idea for a circular economy startup, amazing! Get support from the London Waste and Recycling Board or Zero Waste Scotland.