Re-/Upcycling of food waste

Re-/Upcycling of food waste covers a wide range of innovations dealing with the reuse of waste to create new products. The newly produced items range from shoe soles made out of old chewing gum to 3D-printed cups made out of orange peel and organic plastic made out of fish waste. (Other recycled products suitable for packaging as an alternative material to the more environmentally harmful bio-based and fossil-based plastics are grouped together under a separate niche alternative packaging materials).


Aim and innovation

According to WWF, 313 kilos of edible food are disposed of in Germany every second[1]. The Food and Agriculture Organization assumed that in 2011 around one third of the food produced worldwide was thrown away, which corresponds to 1.3 billion tons per year. [2] On the one hand, the re-/upcycling of food waste includes innovations that deal with the reuse of waste products in food production. On the other hand, the niche includes innovations that aim to avoid food waste, which is caused by its unsaleability.

The aforementioned innovations can be regarded as prime examples of the sustainable cascading use: "A cascading use of biomass exists, when biomass that has been processed into a bio-based final product is used at least once more, either for material or energy purposes.”[3] A higher efficiency of biomass use is to be achieved through cascading use.[4] This is the case, for example, with the Finnish company RENS, which produces shoes from coffee grounds. The company's declared aim is to produce sustainably and avoid the waste of valuable resources[5].

If the waste product is not a by-product of food production, (as is the case with the above mentioned coffee ground-based shoes) but the actual final product, the aim of the projects should not be to achieve a second or third use, but to promote the first use of the food by "saving" it from the garbage can. Hereby the unsaleable food is usually transformed into another product. This way, the Swiss company Damn Good Food & Beverages AG wants to prevent "the long journey from seed to crispy loaf of bread" from being in vain by processing unsold bread into beer[6].


Rens (shoes made from coffee grounds) - Finland[8], Gumdrop (products made from chewing gum) - United Kingdom[9], Gumshoe (shoe soles made from chewing gum) - Netherlands[10], breadbeer (beer made from old bread) - Switzerland[11], Feel the Peel (3D-printed cups made from orange peel) - Italy[12], MARINATEX (packaging material made from fish waste) - United Kingdom[13], Ananas Anam (leather made from pineapple leaves) - United Kingdom[14], Therese Mölk (liquors made from old bread) - Austria[15], Duedilatte (textiles made from sour milk) - Italy[16]


production, consumption, waste and recycling



producers, consumers, innovative companies


State of development

The niche is undergoing major changes and shows a high degree of innovation. Novel approaches can also be found in Germany. For example, selo soda and Caté use the coffee cherry as a waste product of coffee production to make lemonade, and the University of Bayreuth is researching how the peel of the orange can be used as a bio-based plastic[7]. Even if the niche as such is not unknown in Germany, the diverse European projects can serve as good examples which can demonstrate high potential for transformation.


Sustainability potential

As the individual approaches differ greatly from one another, the sustainability potential indicated should be understood as an average value.



  • soil (indirect)
  • water (indirect)
  • climate (indirect)
  • air (indirect)
  • resource efficiency in production and consumption


  • promotion of recycling economy


  • animal welfare (indirect)

Risks / disadvantages

While some companies work with waste products that are by-products of food production, other projects focus on food waste that could be avoided from the beginning. While these companies can alleviate the symptoms of food waste, they have no influence on its causes. The reduction of food waste can lead to a situation where the polluters feel (morally) relieved and do not take further steps to avoid the waste in the first place. According to the German recycling legislation (“Kreislaufwirtschaftsgesetz”)[17] the avoidance of waste is preferable to the reuse and recycling of waste, in order to minimize the unnecessary use of resources.

When assessing the sustainability potential of individual projects, it is important to weigh up whether the products created from waste are substitutes that can replace the consumption of less sustainable products, or whether they are new types of goods that increase the overall consumption. Although the latter products can promote the reuse of resources, they also increase the overall demand.

[1] WWF Deutschland (2015): Das große Wegschmeißen, 2015, Berlin.

[2] FAO (2011): Global food losses and food waste. Extent, causes and prevention. Rome.

[3] Fehrenbach, H. et al. (2017): BIOMASSEKASKADEN. Mehr Ressourceneffizienz durch stoffliche Kaskadennutzung von Biomasse – von der Theorie zur Praxis. TEXTE 53/2017. February 2017, German Environment Agency, Dessau-Roßlau, p. 27.

[4] German Environment Agency (2019): Biobasierte und biologisch abbaubare Kunststoffe. April 2019. www.German Environment Agency.de/biobasierte-biologisch-abbaubare-kunststoffe#textpart-3 (20.02.2020)

[5] Rens Original (2019): Our Mission. https://rensoriginal.com/pages/our-story-rens-original (20.02.2020)

[6] Damn Good Food & Beverages AG (n.d.): Damm Good Bread Beer – Eifach #tamiguet. https://www.breadbeer.ch/ (20.02.2020)

[7] Hauenstein, O., Agarwal, S., & Greiner, A. (2016): Bio-based polycarbonate as synthetic toolbox. Nature Communications, 7(1), 11862. https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms11862

[8] Rens Original (2020): Rens Original - World’s First Coffee Sneaker. https://rensoriginal.com/ (20.02.2020)

[9] Gumdrop Ltd. (n.d.). http://gumdropltd.com/ (20.02.2020)

[10] Gumshoe Amsterdam (n.d.). https://gumshoe.amsterdam/ (20.02.2020)

[11] Damm Good Bread Beer (n.d.). https://www.breadbeer.ch/ (20.02.2020)

[12] Duy, M. (2019): Zirkulärer 3D-Orangendruck: Feel the Peel von Carlo Ratti Associati—DETAIL - Magazin für Archi-tektur + Baudetail. In: Detail. https://www.detail.de/blog-artikel/zirkulaerer-3d-orangendruck-feel-the-peel-von-carlo-ratti-associati-34655/ (20.02.2020)

[13] MARINATEX (2020). https://www.marinatex.co.uk (20.02.2020)

[14] Piñatex (n.d.). https://www.ananas-anam.com/ (20.02.2020)

[15] Bäckerei Therese Mölk (n.d.): Bäckerei Therese Mölk—Pures Brot aus Tirol. https://www.therese-moelk.at/ (20.02.2020)

[16] Duedilatte (n.d.). https://de-de.facebook.com/Duedilatte/ (20.02.2020)

[17] Gesetz zur Förderung der Kreislaufwirtschaft und Sicherung der umweltverträglichen Bewirtschaftung von Abfällen (Kreislaufwirtschaftsgesetz - KrWG), § 6 Abfallhierarchie.