To make food, we waste food. It is an unfortunate and widespread reality.
Every year in the U.S. alone, more than 108 billion pounds of food is wasted. Much of it is squandered at each step in the process of producing food. The term “byproduct” is often tossed around as an inevitability of food production—and byproducts are largely assumed to be useless—but there is an emerging industry based on the utilization of biomass, or food waste. Businesses are being built on the idea that these food byproducts can be employed to make other new products.
Bananas are one of the most mass-cultivated crops in the world. They are also one of the most underutilized in terms of biomass.
After a banana plant fruits, the entire “tree” dies back (due to the nature of rhizomes, look it up!), leaving excess pseudostem, stalk, leaves and inflorescence (the purple “flower” which hangs from the bottom of each banana bunch). This biomass can be reworked into fertilizers, natural fibers, livestock feed, and coloring and has recently been looked into as a potential source of renewable energy. Not only does this make use of what would have been wasted, it also creates additional income for the farmers who cultivate the bananas, without compromising the quality or safety of their operation.
Between 9 and 11 billion pounds of coffee is produced worldwide annually. Almost half of the biomass of the coffee cherry (the fruit which contains the coffee beans) becomes processing waste.
That’s a lot of byproduct. Worse, many of the countries where coffee is produced do not have the wastewater management to keep coffee pulp out of their waterways. Luckily, there are rising companies which upcycle coffee biomass in creative ways. Coffee flour can be produced from the dried cherry pulp, the color and scent resembling ground coffee beans. Tea can also be made in a similar fashion. Coffee also makes great nutrient-rich fertilizer which can even be used in the same fields it derives from.