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Upcycled Certified Foods: The Newest Sustainability Trend

Food waste is a dire environmental problem. But a new movement to create upcycled foods – and an Upcycled Certified food label – just might be the solution we need to combat a big climate change contributor.

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Do you know how much waste you create each day? If your trash can is filling up every couple of days, you certainly aren’t alone. The huge amounts of waste we send to local landfills each week add up fast. Even if you’ve put other sustainable habits into practice, reducing waste can be a challenge.

Food waste in particular is a huge problem. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, one-third of all food produced in the world goes to waste. That’s a huge portion of perfectly good food that winds up never getting used. And all that waste has a terrible impact on the environment. Food waste alone is estimated to be responsible for 8 to 10 percent of our global greenhouse gas emissions.

But there’s a new potential solution for all of that food waste: upcycled foods. These foods take would-be waste and create new products – products you’d never even realize were made from scraps, roots, stems and other food castoffs. 

What is upcycled food?

Upcycled food is like any other upcycled product. These foods take would-be waste and turn them into something new, nutritious and delicious. Made from the scraps you’d normally throw away while preparing meals or snacks, upcycled foods incorporate the “unwanted” parts of common foods. 

Upcycled food, for example, might include broccoli or cauliflower stems, carrot tops, fruit peels, fruit pulp and fish skin. It can also include “ugly” or imperfect produce that’s misshapen, unappealing or different from your typical store-perfect fruits and veggies. These unique ingredients are all perfectly edible and safe to consume; upcycled foods only use fresh, unspoiled parts and pieces. 

It’s an eco-friendly and innovative approach, but it’s also surprisingly good for you too. The little-used food scraps used to make upcycled foods offer different vitamins, minerals and other nutrients than your usual broccoli florets and baby carrots. Research shows that fruit peels, for example, are rich in fiber and vitamin C. Some fruit peels contain more of these nutrients than their fruit pulp. Radish greens, another oft-tossed part, are also rich in vitamin C as well as magnesium, phosphorus, iron and calcium.

The biggest potential of upcycled foods, however, is in their potential to combat the world’s huge waste problem. And they’re poised to become quite popular – thanks to a new organization, upcycled foods are on their way to grocery stores near you. 

The Upcycled Food Association is making upcycled foods mainstream

If you’ve never heard of – or seen – upcycled foods before, don’t worry. It’s still a pretty new trend. It’s growing rapidly; according to Forbes, upcycled foods were named one of the top food trends for 2021. 

Upcycled foods are poised to take off thanks to the work of the Upcycled Food Association. This nonprofit group was first established in 2019, and it now includes more than 150 members within the food industry. In partnership with Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic, the organization created the very first definition of upcycled foods to guide the creation of more products. 

The Upcycled Food Association is making upcycled foods a movement, one that reduces food waste while offering new food sources around the world. Currently, there are more than 400 upcycled food products available for purchase in the US. You can find products like banana chips made from substandard bananas and pickles that use produce that was headed for the trash. But this nonprofit is planning to increase the availability of upcycled foods in the coming years. 

With the introduction of a new Upcycled Food Association label, these foods will become even easier to spot on the shelves of your favorite stores.

The Upcycled Certified food label will help you shop sustainably

In addition to its environmental goals aimed at changing food waste and its uses, the Upcycled Food Association is taking charge of ensuring that upcycled foods are safe to eat – and easy to find. The organization unveiled its Upcycled Certified food label, an official certification symbol that’ll appear on food packaging, on Earth Day 2021. 

Upcycled Food Association's Upcycled Certified Food Label
Photo: Upcycled Food Association

Expected to be officially released in August 2021, the Upcycled Certified label will make it easy to find, buy and trust upcycled food products. The label is similar to the vegan and gluten-free labels you see on store products; it’ll be visible right on the front of boxes, bags, cans and other packaging. 

Any food with the Upcycled Certified label has passed the Upcycled Food Association’s third-party certification program (the first of its kind). To earn the label, food manufacturers have to meet ingredient or product standards and prove that they’re using upcycled foods. So, when you spot one of these black-and-white labels on a product, you’ll know it’s made from would-be food waste that was upcycled into new ingredients or a whole new food.

As Upcycled Certified foods become more widely available, you’ll have the chance to give them a try. Every time you choose one of these labeled products, you’ll also know that you’re taking part in the effort to reduce food waste. These small choices every time you shop can add up, especially as Upcycled Certified foods become more common.