Food Industry’s Waste As Raw Material For Product Design
It has been important to me, when I get the chance, to movie into a home, which reflects my values, ideas, creativity and sense of space. I recently had the chance to create my first adult home and furnish it from scratch. Mirroring what we stand for, my sister and I decided to only use second-hand furniture and decoration pieces, or such that are made from waste materials. In other words, we didn’t want our decision to move into this beautiful place to result in wasteful consumerism, but to only supply the things that we really need or contribute positively to our lives in one way or another. The quest to fulfil this little brief we set for ourselves has naturally developed into a search for unusual ways to make and supply products and, truth be told, the deeper I dug into my research, the less I understood why plastic is used as a main raw material for production, supply, consumption and discarding of objects.
As it might have popped up in my other blogs and articles, I have moved a lot. Naturally, someone like me doesn’t stay around long enough to accumulate clutter, however, this has made me extremely sensitive towards anything that I don’t need. On the other hand, having worked in the luxury sports industry, I know how much creative energy, time and resources go into the making of a single piece.
Writing this article, however, has opened my eyes to the very simple, natural way of fabrication, based on one’s needs and how doable this alternative is in the event of major creators actually getting on board with the idea.
I realize this would not be as profitable compared to using plastic, which makes all this sound a little utopian, however, it is the better and more natural way to go about production and consumption. Some of those base materials might sound familiar, some came as a surprise to me as well, but the point of this article in the first place is to learn something new, and hopefully make all readers re-evaluate their creation and purchasing habits.
Although there are multiple sources of natural waste, which can be used as a base material for various products, I decided to focus on food industry waste solely. This is not because I consider the rest of the materials less suitable, but due to the scale of this particular industry’s waste on the one hand and, on the other, because food waste is very easily biodegradable. Additionally, I wanted to keep this article tight, only focusing on one industry for the sake of the opportunity to go into detail.
Faced with global famine, human beings keep distributing food resources unevenly, which results in enormous food waste. My first example will be Switzerland, the country I currently live in, where the import of bananas has been increasing for decades. Just two years ago, it amounted to approximately 97,000 tons worth 104 million CHF. A huge proportion of those fails to be utilised by the population and ends up being discarded. Considering that 30 per cent of each banana is the peel, which in 100 per cent of the cases gets disposed of, it seems Switzerland has got a lot of banana waste to work with.
Ecuador, on the other hand, where bananas are native and, one could say, maintain economic stability, generates 230 million tons of banana waste. It is truthfully a shame for fruit of such importance to be disgraced by ending up in landfill. Therefore, banana fibre has been invented, which is a viable and more sustainable alternative to cotton. What makes it more environmentally friendly is both that it is 100 per cent biodegradable, and the fact that by being a by-product, it doesn’t actually need land, chemicals or water to grow. Harmful microfibers are also not released during the wash.
Possibly the most popular raw material in the food industry waste are eggshells. In the Netherlands, for instance, which is the largest egg exporter globally, 10 billion eggs are produced each year. Their shells were successfully utilised by ‘Eggshell Ceramic’, a project showing off the possibilities of circular design and creating a beautiful journey for eggshells before they finally join the landfill. Replacing single-use products and extremely lightweight, the ceramics created by Atelier LVDW can still be used in agriculture before the end of their service.
Focusing on the growing aquaculture in the EU leads one to discover that 250,000 tonnes of seafood waste are discarded in landfills and sea coasts around Europe each year. With a seriously negative impact on coastlines, as well as marine biodiversity, seafood waste could be otherwise extremely economically beneficial, utilized in the right ways. The majority of all seafood scraps, including shells, is a rich source of calcium carbonate, chitin and protein: extremely useful chemicals in product design.
Shrimps, on the other hand, consist of 70 per cent inedible matter. Their peel contains chitin, from which chitosan can be extracted. The applications are numerous: cosmetics, packaging, water purification, medicine, bioplastics, agriculture, as well as pottery glaze, as discovered through experimentation by Dutch designer Jade Ruijzenaars.
Producing nearly 80 per cent of the world’s oxygen, marine plants, among which seaweed and algae, are also often used in the food industry for their numerous benefits. This powerful biofilter, is, however, often misused, and becomes waste. Used to the fullest of its potential, it can serve as raw material for seaweed yarn and be implemented into rugs and various other products. This method’s discoverer, Nienke Hoogvliet, explains that, unlike cotton, seaweed and algae do not need pesticides to grow, which they do much faster than traditional raw materials for the textile industry.
One of the causes for fashion to have become the second largest polluting industry in the world is wool production. This is due to the methane emissions, chemical pollutants and faecal contamination, and the effects have been enhanced through artificially inflated demand and so, the emergence of fast fashion. In order to slow down the process, product developers should abandon animal-derived products and switch to sustainable alternatives. A possible replacement of wool is a newly developed material, the fibres of which are made from pineapple leaves collected from markets and juice bars in London. The biodegradable vegan material is proof that fundamental issues in production could be solved if makers revisit their connections with the process of creation and abandon old practices.
A little party never killed nobody, right? Just not in the case of sequin garments, which are made of harmful plastics. Luckily, a bio iridescent sequin has been invented to save the party, made from cellulose solely. This is a plant-based polymer, which all flora contains, including all fruit and vegetables we consume. It is highly renewable and abundant, which brings plenty of environmental and economic benefits to the table.
A slightly ambiguous example as a raw material for this article is human hair. It is technically not food industry waste unless it is found in the takeaway from downstairs’ kebab or the local soup bar (dad joke alert). It is, however, a resource increasing in the future as Earth’s population rapidly grows. The UK, for instance, creates 6.5 million kilos of human hair waste annually. Its decay releases toxic gasses and jeopardises the British drainage system. This is a shame since hair is extremely flexible, oil-absorbent, light in weight, thermo-insulating and with extreme tensile strength, which makes it an incredibly suitable raw material in textiles.
Further raw materials directly from the food industry, successfully implemented into product design are:
- Probiotic bacteria
- fish leather
- cow intestines
- fruit and veggie skins
- tea leaves
- sauces and spices made into food packaging for takeaway
- gelatine, glycerine, water
- plantain, coffee
- kidney bean peels
- natural plasticising agent (glycerol), a natural acid (vinegar) and seaweed
- orange peels
- tree leaves
- milk as glaze
- grape leftovers
- mixed animal byproducts
Further resources on the subject can be found by visiting those pages on Instagram: