Food waste is a huge problem pretty much everywhere on planet Earth. Recently, chefs have tended to be on the front lines of this battle against waste by dumpster diving and cooking food that either has been or will end up in a garbage can. But they're not the only ones tackling this issue.
Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, is as bloated and decadent as any other modern city and every day, some 3,500 kilogrammes (that's 7,700 pounds, America) of largely edible but unsellable produce are thrown out by vendors at its outdoor markets. And, as fate would have it, this enormous waste takes place within eyeshot of Willem de Kooning Academie, where a gang of design students decided to come up with their own solution to the waste and overconsumption problems in their city.
"Food isn't trash, you just need to find a different purpose for the resisting material. We used our design background to come up with a solution. A solution that we found in gastronomy," the group of designers said on their website.
And so they adopted the culinary technique of boiling the fruits down into a mash which, is then dehydrated and converted in a durable leather-meets-candy material called "Fruitleather."
Not surprisingly, these design students have found a far more fashionable use for the edible fruit leather than rotten Fruit Roll-Ups. The Dutch undergrads have successfully fashioned this material into a handbag which they see as a prototype for future products.
According to the Dutch government, 14 percent of all of the food purchased in the Netherlands is thrown away. That amounts to roughly 2.5 billion euros ($2.8 billion) every year—about 50 kilos (110 pounds) of food per person. The main products which are squandered tend to be milk, bread, fruits, and vegetables.
This leads to a mammoth waste not only of food but of money and energy because all of this garbage has to be transported and eventually processed, creating even more CO2 emissions.
That's why the team at de Kooning says Fruitleather is about more than just design or fashion. Ultimately, they hope to create a product which will not only serve a practical purpose but also sensitizes consumers to the massive amount of food thrown in the trash.
"What we want to achieve with this project is to create awareness for the problem that is food waste," the group writes, "and show that there is a solution."
I got in touch with Hugo de Boon, one of the project's team members, to find out more about the future of Fruitleather.
MUNCHIES: Hi, Hugo. So, what's the goal of this project? Hugo de Boon: The goal of the project is to introduce a new type of material to the world [that] is 100 percent natural and [that] originates from an issue all around the world, which is food waste. With our material, we want to spread awareness of the food waste problem and show that food is never waste. With our project, we aim [to spread] awareness of how much food waste there is and how unnecessary it actually is. [We] show that even the most worthless and rotten pieces of fruit can still be used in a positive way.
Plus, we help market vendors and the city. Here market vendors need to pay 12 cents per kilo to dispose of their waste, which is why it often dumped illegally. By taking the waste [off] their hands, it spares them time and money, and prevents the city from being littered with waste.
How did food and cooking play a role in the genesis of the project? This was something we found out after we had come up with our process—that chefs use a similar method for [making] candy-like pieces of fruit. I guess we came up with our own gastronomy for the process … The first official piece of Fruitleather was created after we initially started taking out the pigments of fruit to use as an ink. We saw a lot of potential in the leftover mashed-up fruit, [which] we decided to dry overnight.
[But] gastronomy was not something that influenced the project. We started with a large brainstorm session, where waste was one of the recurring topics. When being confronted with the large amounts of waste on [Rotterdam's] Binnerotte square, we knew that that was where we wanted to aim our focus. We purely looked at the problem [that] we were surrounded by, and then tried to solve it from a designer's point of view.
What's the next step in the Fruitleather project? We plan on further developing our material. The material is now still in its starting phase, with a strong concept to back it up. However, we want to make sure the Fruitleather is at its highest quality before making it available for purchase. Once this step is made, it can eventually be applied to a large range of products. We are currently very busy with testing how water-resistant, how durable, and how strong the material is.
Thanks for speaking with me, Hugo.