Uproxx knows that science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines are driving the future of this planet forward. Every day, we see new ideas, fresh innovations, and bold trailblazers in these fields. Follow us this month as we highlight how STEM is shaping the culture of NOW.
Food waste is a complex issue. It’s found in all stages of the food cycle — from agricultural production to processing to distribution and consumption. The amount of wasted food is truly staggering. According to a National Geographic dive into food waste, we toss around 1.3 billion tons of food each year in the US alone — costing us trillions of dollars. Plus, that billion-plus tons of food is creating an alarming amount of harmful emissions into our atmosphere. The carbon emissions alone equate to 3.3 billion metric tons pouring into the air, as food rots in landfills. That’s so much carbon that if “food waste emissions” was an independent nation it would be the third largest carbon polluter on earth, just below the US and China.
Students at UC Davis decided to tackle this problem head on. At the Food Science and Technology Department of the university, Dr. Edward Spang put out a notice for students to form a group to study food waste from scientific, economic, and technological points of view. In short order, a team of undergrad and grad students began to ask themselves some vital questions: Where could they significantly affect food waste as a team of college students? Could they determine what nutritional value food waste has? And, if so, how could they engineer that food waste in order to repurpose it in other food products? To answer these questions they launched End Of Waste — an effort to scientifically and practically find ways to turn food waste back into food.
The newly formed team set out to study where food is being wasted most prolifically — pre-packaged food factories and juicing facilities. Just think about how much pre-made juice you can buy now compared to even ten years ago. Or how many different fruit snacks. Depressingly, these places tend to use only certain parts of fruits and vegetables before throwing away what is unusable to them. The goal of End of Waste is to extend the lifecycle and maximize the usage of resources, so these sorts of facilities made a good starting place.
Maddison Gurrola, who decided to study Nutritional Science after leaving a career as a line cook at LA’s famed Son Of A Gun restaurant, breaks down End Of Waste’s mission like this:
“End of Waste aims for the better management of wasted food by returning it back to the human food supply chain rather than compost or animal feed.”
Gurrola noted that companies often don’t have a choice in where their leftover food goes. Meaning, more often than not, it ends up in landfills. The team behind End Of Waste quickly realized that making food waste “safe for human consumption” again could be a surefire solution to give that waste a second life.
Emily Gousen, a grad student who’s currently doing research on Food Waste in the Food Science & Technology Department, sees this as a sign of the times, adding: “Consumers, especially millennials, like to spend money on mission-driven brands and are increasingly looking to ‘vote with their dollars.'”
In the current food delivery system, there aren’t a lot of options out there that make use of food waste. We’ve profiled spent grain granola bars and strawberry vodka — but those are niche markets. Gousen laments that when it comes to the average consumer combatting food waste, “There aren’t many options other than going dumpster diving which is pretty out of the question for most people. End Of Waste is about providing people who care about food waste and sustainable agriculture with a product that supports their values.”