According to Food AWARE, 18 million tonnes of food waste end up in UK landfill each year. That’s estimated to be worth a whopping £23 billion. This is significantly impacting climate change, with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization reporting that global food waste contributes 8% of total greenhouse gas emissions. The impact is twofold: decomposing food waste in landfill releases methane (a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide), and the emissions created in the production, packaging, storage, transportation and sale of food are wastefully impacting the planet.
As consumers, we can make a conscious effort to waste less (and dispose of unavoidable food waste correctly), but shopping from brands that implement circular practices is a step further. As opposed to the traditional model of 'make, use, dispose', circular businesses aim to keep resources in use for as long as possible via a regenerative approach.
Take UpCircle Beauty, a skincare brand inspired by coffee waste. "We create 500,000 tonnes of coffee waste each year in the UK alone," cofounder Anna Brightman points out. Brightman realised that if she was throwing away a full cafetière of grounds each morning, coffee shops must be wasting so much more. Aware of coffee’s skincare benefits, Anna joined forces with her brother and collected waste beans from local cafés to make coffee-infused face and body scrubs.
This is a step further than eco-friendly skincare and uses materials which can go through potentially infinite life cycles.
Jo Chidley, founder of Beauty Kitchen
"Coffee is an amazing topical skincare ingredient and its antioxidant levels actually increase in brewed coffee," Brightman explains, with some experts arguing that caffeine has the ability to protect skin from environmental aggressors such as pollution. Research carried out by the Estée Lauder Companies found that topical caffeine also increased "naturally occurring electric fields on the surface of the skin," increasing water content and providing moisturisation, making it great for drier skin types.
After the success of its scrubs, UpCircle started extracting coffee oil from the waste beans to create its bestselling Hydrating Face Serum, £14.99, as well as using residual chai spices to make face cleansing soap bars. Brightman doesn’t plan to stop there, though, and has many upcycling ideas in the pipeline. "We’re currently looking at other 'waste' ingredients including byproducts from hemp manufacture, olive and avocado stones and used flower petals from weddings and florists."
Hackney-based sustainable beauty brand MontaMonta also uses waste coffee. Last year it collaborated with Ozone Coffee to create a Grapefruit + Lemongrass Scrub, £10, using spent coffee grounds collected from Ozone's Old Street café. Similarly, Beauty Kitchen, which prides itself on implementing innovative sustainable practices across the board, created a limited edition Berry British Sustainable Beauty Oil, £20, using oils from waste produce created by the juicing industry. "We have always used cradle-to-cradle principles (an element of circular business)," says Jo Chidley, founder of Beauty Kitchen. "This is a step further than eco-friendly skincare and uses materials which can go through potentially infinite life cycles. With food upcycling, we use industry waste that can make its way back into the nutrient cycle."
Beyond creating a sustainable product, these brands want to use beauty to challenge preconceptions about food waste and spread a wider message about the environment. "We have faced a long period of environmental disasters and it's clear we must find ways to minimise our footprint. Creating fun, effective and attention-grabbing beauty products is an ideal way," Chidley emphasises. But Beauty Kitchen doesn't want to add to eco-anxiety; it wants to relieve it. Monty Ashley-Craig, the founder of MontaMonta, echoes this view. "I think it's important to remember that 'waste' is a relatively new phenomenon that has only developed over the past 100-200 years. I’m hoping to spark a conversation about what 'waste' is, its inherent value and potential for another use," Ashley-Craig explains. "The messaging around sustainability can often be patronising or elitist but there is no commercial product on this planet that can claim to be 100% sustainable. It's about trying your hardest to play your part," she adds.
It's not just smaller and independent brands which are getting in on the action. The Body Shop has been sourcing its almond milk (used throughout its Almond Milk & Honey range) via a community trade initiative in Spain since 2016 – broken almond nuts that aren’t sold for food are salvaged and the unwanted husks turned into compost. More recently, the company has started sourcing thousands of 'wonky' carrots from a British farm to create the Carrot Energising Face Cleanser, £8.50, and the Carrot Cream Nature-Rich Daily Moisturiser, £14, and is also working with a farm in Ecuador to use bananas that wouldn’t be sold in supermarkets to create its limited edition banana range.
As many more big and small brands adopt circular practices, shopping consciously should become easier and more accessible. As Ashley-Craig highlights via a quote from Douglas McMaster, a zero waste pioneer and founder of the UK’s first zero waste restaurant: "Waste is a failure of the imagination." That's food for thought indeed.