A handful of manufacturers have caught the vision, finding good uses for food that would normally be wasted and offering products that use compostable packages over merely recyclable ones (which often eventually end up in landfills).

Take ReGrained, for example, a small but growing San Francisco brand that formulates nutrition bars out of leftover, spent grain from local craft breweries. “The amount of grain used to brew is staggering ... then you start thinking about the agriculture supply chain, malting and distribution and all the water and resources that went into getting the grain to the brewery in the first place,” explains ReGrained cofounder Dan Kurzrock. “With this in mind, recovering and upcycling the grain creates shared value on multiple levels—I see ReGrained as a hybrid between a sustainable food and resource management company.” Although tasty bars intended for convenient, take-along nutrition already saturate natural store shelves, ReGrained (with its cheeky tagline “Eat Beer”) appeals to those who understand the prevalence of food waste—even if they don’t strictly identify with the zero-waste movement. 

The founders of Loliware—which makes edible, flavored cups made out of vegan gelatin, perfect for replacing those ubiquitous red-plastic party cups—aim to reduce plastic in waste streams. “Some people may not know, but there are about 70 million tons of plastic waste that enter the landfill every year,” says cofounder Chelsea Briganti. “It’s our mission to hopefully replace a percentage of that.” Aside from being a novel product for people to drink their cocktails (and eat them too), Loliware also ameliorates fears of BPA-toxicity from conventional cups.

ReGrained and Loliware are two extreme examples of products that nudge the dial on waste reduction. But other natural companies are also incorporating zero-waste manufacturing principles into their products to build identity as a waste-less brand. Justin’s nut butter, for example, recently launched a pretzel and nut butter Snack Pack made from 100-percent post-consumer PET plastic derived mostly from water bottles. Although the product still contains plastic, such gains can measurably reduce food waste. (Compare this to Starbucks’ better-than-nothing but paltry 10-percent post-consumer paper-fiber cup.)

Retailers on food waste 

The food-waste crisis has inspired many retailers to get involved, as well. Efforts include coaxing shoppers to buy slighty imperfect produce, partaking in food rescue programs and educating customers on the magnitude of food waste.

A growing number of retailers are promoting so-called “ugly” fruits and vegetables to their shoppers at reduced prices. Intermarche, the third-largest supermarket in France, received global recognition and praise for its campaign titled “Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables.” By cleverly merchandising disfigured fruits and vegetables (think twisted carrots, bulbous potatoes and misshapen apples), Intermarche increased store traffic by 24 percent and sold an average of 1.2 tons of “ugly” produce per store in the first two days of the campaign. The verdict is in: People love buying silly-looking produce.

Food-waste activist Jordan Figueiredo agrees. Intermarche’s campaign inspired him to launch the Instagram and Twitter handle @UglyFruitAndVeg, which quickly amassed thousands of followers keen on scrolling through images of irregular fruits and veggies. “Once people learn a bit about the issue, they’re immediately onboard with doing whatever we can do to end this senseless waste,” says Figueiredo. He stresses that retailers especially can create change because they control the standard for what gets wasted. “Ask your grocers what they’re doing to stop massive food waste,” he recommends. Natural retailers, in particular, are passionate about environmentally friendly business practices, but shopper pressure can further encourage grocers to take even more steps to reduce foodwaste, such as composting, selling post-peak produce at discount, donating would-be food waste to a local food bank and using imperfectly shaped produce for juices, smoothies and sandwiches. Trust us, less-than-perfect produce still tastes great!

So, go ahead: Talk to your local grocers, buy innovative minimal-waste products, make the most of the products you buy and get (zero) wasted.

How do you make an effort to reduce food waste in your own life?