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Food sustainability encompasses how food is produced, distributed, preserved and consumed | Photo source Megan Hodges on Unsplash

Top 5 innovation ideas in food sustainability

Food & Drink

Sustainable innovations that reduce food waste, plastic usage and much more

The idea of food sustainability encompasses a combination of factors that include how food is produced, distributed, preserved and consumed. The choices made in all of these areas impacts not only the environment, but public health, animal welfare and local economies. 

Thankfully, we continue to spot innovations aimed at making the production and preservation of food more sustainable. From reducing food waste, removing plastic from the equation and improving supply-chain transparency, here are five of our favourite sustainable food innovations we’ve seen in recent months.  

Using farm waste to create healthy food additives

In Canada, Comet Bio is turning farm waste into sustainably-produced sweeteners and nutritional supplements. Using proprietary, two-step conversion technology, the company works with farmers to upcycle leaves and stalks leftover from traditional harvests into a variety of biomaterials.

Upcycling could be a lucrative step to take to achieve both a reduction in consumption and pollution and an increase in sustainability, for businesses in myriad industries. Springwise has spotted other attempts at upcycling farm waste, like using it as building material for sustainable housing.

Using banana leaves to wrap food, instead of plastic

Banana leaves are already used in many places around the world to wrap food, and are a traditional packaging material for sticky rice.

Some supermarkets in Thailand and Vietnam have begun wrapping food products in banana leaves. Banana trees are easy to find in these regions and some can produce leaves as long as 3 metres. The leaves’ sturdiness make them a great candidate for packaging fast-selling fresh produce, as they’re biodegradable last on store shelves for months. 

Stores in Vietnam are embracing a variety of green packaging options. Lotte Mart uses boxes made of sugarcane waste and wraps eggs in paper instead of plastic, while Big C offers biodegradable shopping bags made from corn powder.

Other recent innovations in sustainable food storage include packaging made from soft rush and biodegradable plastic made from waste cooking oil.

Using spoilage sensors to know when food goes bad

Researchers at London’s Imperial College developed a low-cost, eco-friendly spoilage sensor. They are made by printing carbon electrodes directly onto paper, making them biodegradable and non-toxic. They can detect gases like ammonia and trimethylamine, which build up in meat and fish when they spoil. 

The sensors can be connected to an app so that by holding their smartphones up to the packaging, consumers can find out instantly if packaged food is safe to eat. The researchers hope that the sensors could eventually replace the ‘use-by’ date on packaging.

Other recent innovations aimed at reducing food waste include replacing plastic with an edible film that extends shelf-life and the conversion of food waste into textiles.

Using 3D printers to produce synthetic meat

Research has enabled 3D printing to produce synthetic meats via sustainable means.

Giuseppe Scionti is a Barcelona-based researcher and the brains behind Nova Meat. He developed a way of creating synthetic meat using vegetable proteins and a 3D printer.

The meat itself can mimic the texture of beef or chicken. The process involves using vegetable proteins that replicate similar protein complexes found in red meat. Printing 100 grams of this synthetic meat costs under 3 USD and just uses solely sustainable raw ingredients.

With increasing number of people going meat-free, at least some of the time, a sustainable alternative is being sought after. Soy-based substitutes are often the most popular, yet the production of soy can sometimes be non-environmentally friendly in itself.

Using blockchain to track supply chain

American startup Ripe.io aims to transparently track food products to provide real time data on food safety and delivery. It is essentially offering to digitise the food supply chain with blockchain while creating a global system that can serve the entire food industry.

One of Ripe.io’s first forays into food was the Internet of Tomatoes, a collaborative IoT project that collected a wealth of data from farms and applied it to growing a better tomato. It is now developing a similar system to create a new level of transparency between growers, distributors, labs, restaurants and others.

Innovations like this are giving food producers a way to go beyond labels like “sustainable” or “natural” and provide a whole new level of detail about the food consumers are about to purchase.