Upcycling – the sustainable food practice that combats food waste – has been gaining momentum for some time now. As awareness of the issue rises, consumer attitudes about reusing food scraps are shifting positively. “60% of consumers are looking to buy more products with upcycled ingredients, because 95% of them think it’s important to do their part to reduce food waste, according to leading product development company, and UFA Associate Member, MATTSON” (New Hope Network) Food waste is an environmental concern (in terms of the energy wasted to produce it, and the greenhouse gases that rotting food emits). It’s also a huge monetary loss to companies, and has the power to be redirected to those in need. This has led to some innovative ways of ensuring that food ends up in bellies, not landfills. 

Upcycling food is a fairly new concept, but consumers have warmed up to it quickly. Much was related to the verbiage. Drexel University experimented with different descriptions, such as value-added surplus, salvaged, repurposed, reprocessed and rescued. The word upcycled has more often been used in the fashion world, but when applied to food, it carries a connotation of environmental consciousness the way that recycling does. The Cambridge dictionary coined the word “Upcycling” its 2019 word of the year.  

With this movement so quickly gaining attention, organization is necessary. The non-profit organization ReFED created The Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste, the first national economic study and action plan to navigate food waste at scale. ReFED also operates a Food Waste Innovator database, which lists information about hundreds of food waste industry innovators. Until recently, upcycling was a new and completely unregulated classification of food – but now that’s changing. 

The Upcycled Food Association was recently formed, giving the movement more structure than ever before. The first representative body for upcycling is focused on defining what upcycling means, and “advocating to streamline the process of classifying upcycled ingredients for use in foods” (Food Business News). Founding members of the group are companies and organizations that have already established dedication to using upcycled food ingredients, including familiar names like Imperfect Produce and Barnana. The organization hopes to have a formal certification program for upcycling on the horizon as well. With a certification would come monitoring of the quality and safety of upcycled food products, making the process even more palatable for consumers across the board. It’s safe to say that we will see even more brands emerging with the mission of repurposing perfectly good food that might have otherwise ended up in the garbage.