How the design world is tackling the global food waste problem Skip to content

How the design world is tackling the global food waste problem (House and Garden)

This article was written 3 years ago.


Approximately one-third of all food produced for human consumption globally – some 1.3 billion tonnes – is lost or wasted. In the USA that figure is as high as 50%. The Japanese dispose of ¥11 trillion (more than £81.7 billion) worth of food every year. And if these figures seem high, the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization makes a distinction between food loss and food waste that is worth exploring. The word ‘waste’ is reserved for food that is spoiled or discarded by retailers and consumers. Harvests left to rot in fields because of bad weather, labour shortages or price collapses; the food that is damaged in transit from supplier to supermarket; the 90% of tomatoes discarded because they didn’t meet aesthetic standards at one commercial farm in Queensland, Australia; and the 13,000 end-of-loaf slices of fresh bread a UK bakery throws away every day because supermarkets don’t sell sandwiches made from crusts – are all, somewhat euphemistically, labelled as ‘losses’. So too is the excess food produced under subsidy by farmers because of policies designed to prevent food short-ages that are yet to be reformed in the same way that Europe’s still-controversial Common Agricultural Policy has been. So, when we hear about food ‘waste’, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. And in Britain, we waste the equivalent of one in every three bags of shopping we bring home from the supermarket. In today’s global and intertwined food markets, it is difficult to avoid the fact that if rich nations stopped throwing away internationally traded commodities grown on limited agricultural land, there might be enough food for everyone. The 800 million people currently facing chronic hunger worldwide could be fed with just a fraction of what those in rich countries are currently discarding.

Clearly something must be done about food waste. There is already legal guidance that dictates what pro-ducers must do about their surpluses. In the UK, a food and drink waste hierarchy puts methods of tackling the problem in priority order, listing the redistribution of food for human consumption second only to waste reduction. And some organisations are taking heed. Pret a Manger donates food that remains unsold at the end of each day to charities and hostels supporting people affected by homelessness, and apps such as Olio and Too Good To Go enable people to trade surplus food locally. InStock, a pop-up restaurant in Amsterdam, serves Kentucky Fried Goose, made from birds shot down at Schiphol Airport to prevent them from fouling jet engines and poaches misshapen fruit in red wine that has been open too long to drink. More than a thousand ‘social supermarkets’ across Europe sell damaged or close to use-by date food at reduced prices and Rotten Fruit Box is a subscription service for freeze-dried fruit that would otherwise have been left to rot. And yet Tristram Stuart, author of Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, is still reporting locked bins containing edible food spoiled with blue dye being transported straight from supermarkets to landfill – ninth on the UK government’s hierarchy and excusable only as a last resort. The food industry clearly has a long way to go in reducing food waste and redistributing surplus to those who are currently going hungry.

However, not all food waste is avoidable, and neither is it all edible. Think of the shells from eggs or seafood, the husks from coffee beans or the fleeces from sheep raised for meat. Every time we process animals and vegetables into food, we leave behind inedible by-products – all of which contribute to climate change as they decompose in landfill sites. The second directive in the UK government’s food waste hierarchy is redistribution – firstly as food, but secondly in the reuse of bio-material to make industrial products – and it is here that the projects in this chapter come in. Instead of taking raw materials from the earth, a new generation of designers and makers is looking to these waste streams, transforming something empty, finished and unwanted into some-thing meaningful, new and desirable. British designer Bethan Gray has collaborated with Nature Squared to turn feathers and shells into furniture and home accessories fit to be passed down through generations. Basse Stittgen makes tableware from damaged and out-of-date eggs. Solidwool has injected new worth into a failing local wool industry, turning something that had been downgraded to waste back into the valued commodity it once was. And Ana Cristina Quiñones, Atticus Durnell and Highsociety Studio are all finding ways to transform the waste generated by our obsession with coffee into something positive. On their own, these projects aren’t any more likely to resolve our global food problems than my banana bread is, but they may be enough to start conversations and change mind-sets – and, with a little luck and a lot of perseverance, that may just be enough to start something that will.

Bethan Gray x Nature Squared

The Exploring Eden collection, a collaboration between Bethan Gray and surface specialist Nature Squared, comprises lounge chairs, desks and side tables as well as paperweights and bookends, all made from waste natural materials such as the shells discarded in the preparation of seafood and the feathers plucked from poultry. |

Basse Stittgen

The German designer’stableware and home accessories collection, How Do You Like Your Eggs?, is made entirely from eggshells and egg whites that would otherwise be discarded.

Atticus Durnell

This London-based designer uses a granite-like material made from used coffee grounds, called That’s Caffeine. It is water and heat resistant, offering all the benefits of plastic with none of the environmental compromises.


Combining the ‘itchy and scratchy’ charcoal-grey wool of Herdwick sheep with a bio-resin, the husband-and-wife team based in Devon has developed a material with similar properties to fibreglass and carbon fibre.

Ana Cristina Quiñones

This Puerto Rican designer has created a biodegradable material called ‘Materia Madura’, derived from the organic waste produced by the consumption of plantain and coffee – two of Puerto Rico’s cultural staples.

Highsociety Studio

Johannes Kiniger and Giulia Farencena Casaro have created a lighting collection using the by-products of coffee and beer making, including the husk of the coffee bean and barley and hops left over from brewing.

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Contact Katie


Katie Treggiden is also the founder and director of Making Design Circular — an international membership community and online learning platform for environmentally conscious designers, makers, artists and craftspeople.
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