Food Waste Is Not All Wasted
Outcast Founder and CEO Dr. Darren Burke talks about how he came to realize that the food waste problem was something he could take on. Now, he aims to inspire other innovators, entrepreneurs and organizations to take up the fight alongside the Outcast mission.
The Food Waste Problem
When I tell people I convert food waste into high-value nutritional supplements I get a variety of responses and plenty of strange looks. In their minds, most go to that wet compost bag or smelly green bin that sits outside until pick up by the local waste management company.
The discarding of food waste hasn’t changed much in the past 25 years. Waste management companies are paid large sums of money to pick up, haul away, and dump excess, expired or left-over food into local landfill sites. Businesses that reply upon customers buying fresh food have this problem and garbage trucks take it away with the costs getting passed onto the end consumer, and the environment.
If food waste was a country it would be the 3rd highest emitter of greenhouse gases after the United States and China, according to the United Nations (UN). Worldwide we discard 30% of the food we produce and in North America, it is closer to 50%. These statistics represent all food (plant-based and animal-based), but it is interesting to note that about 30% of fruit and vegetables produced are rejected simply for being the wrong size or shape!
Food waste occurs across a wide variety of stops in our supply chain and spans a continuum from the farmer’s field to the food you scrape off your plate after a meal. Each year approximately 63 million tons of food is wasted in North America. This amount of food costs consumers, businesses and farms over $200 million growing, processing, transporting, and disposing of food that was never eaten. The fair market value of this wasted food is 5x this amount, and the nutrients lost considered priceless for those in need.
The Upcycled Food Solution: Entrepreneurial Innovation and Consumer Driven Change
When I started looking into ways to save food from landfill through upcycling, I was surprised to learn that no one else was doing this. It seemed like a logical leap to turn discarded produce into plant-based nutrition for all diets. We’ve seen the plant-based, vegan food revolution happen in everywhere from fast-food restaurants to grocery stores. So, why does so much plant-based goodness end up in the trash when there is a multi-million dollar industry that’s taking vegan food and smashing it into plant-based burgers?
I’m still a bit shocked that others haven’t joined in this plant-based pursuit; however, I have discovered that it is far more complicated and expensive to do this well and right. The major players that could make an immediate impact (waste management) are less willing to help because this would cut their revenue significantly. Government regulations would force action, but waste management is a well-organized and powerful lobby group with significant influence in local and national politics. That leaves this challenge to entrepreneurs and those farther up the supply chain that care about the environment as much or more than the “bottom-line”. The most powerful voice is the end consumers that demand the companies making the products they love to change, be more sustainable, and help protect the planet. I love this mindset and social activism. It’s less about veganism as a lifestyle and more about the demand for climate action and healthier food options. It is driving progress and positive change!
The good news is that Outcast has created a patent-pending process with trade secret IP that can transform waste stream fruits and vegetables into long shelf-life packaged products that spurs positive environmental change. It is small scale at the moment but an important milestone in the right direction for the future. Education, awareness and decolonizing food structures can be the pillars that can help reframe how food is handled, consumed and distributed.