Transforming Food Waste Into Wonder

Creative techniques that repurpose food waste into a range of valuable products are giving even fruit peels and fish scales a new lease on life.

Farming up plastic substitutes

Sitting at the heart of the global food ecosystem, India accounts for a quarter of production and consumption worldwide and much of the losses in between. But diminishing the nation’s vast food waste may require heading back to the start of the supply chain, given the reliance on the agricultural sector to both meet nutritional needs and provide a source of livelihood. 

Farmers are hard-pressed to yield fresh produce at an efficient pace, leaving little time for rest between harvest periods. This not only takes a toll on the land’s fertility but also forces the burning of crop residue waste—totaling about 35 million tons of food-related waste per harvest.

Local startup Zero Plast Labs is hitting two birds with one stone by converting crop residue into bioplastics, tackling both biomass waste and plastic pollution. Unlike industrial plastics that can persist in the environment for up to half a millennium, these biomaterials readily degrade into organic matter, acting as fertilizer for the soil.

Crop residue waste provides a rich source of cellulose, sturdy molecules found in plant cell walls that the human body cannot digest. By extracting these molecules, Zero Plast’s proprietary CelluBlend technology combines cellulose with binders to dish out a range of rigid and flexible composite materials as plastic alternatives.

Zero Plast has already upcycled 50 kilograms of crop residue waste for double the weight of sustainable bioplastic, effectively preventing around 300 kilograms of carbon emissions.

Erinne Ong reports on basic scientific discoveries and impact-oriented applications, ranging from biomedicine to artificial intelligence. She graduated with a degree in Biology from De La Salle University, Philippines.

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