Food Waste : Eat and Build with Compost? Japanese Researchers show the way

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As improbable as it may seem, researchers at the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Industrial Science have discovered a way to recycle food waste into edible construction material that rivals concrete when it comes to strength.

Food scraps make up a large proportion of industrial and household waste every year. The UN Food and Agricultural Association estimates that on a global basis, 45 percent of fruits and vegetables are wasted along the supply chain. It’s important to note that fruits and vegetables have the highest wastage rates of any food products.

Food by-products have many applications, ranging from insulation to high value plastics. Their most prominent use extend to the production of biofuels such as biodiesel and bioethanol as well as bioplastics, seeing as the vital chemicals needed to produce said plastics are derived from food waste.

The Tokyo approach is unique in that seeks to not only convert food scraps into sturdy building material but also ensure continued edibility.

Making use of a ‘heat pressing’ concept, the scientists initially vacuum-dried and pulverized food scraps ranging from cabbage leaves, seaweed, pumpkin, orange and banana peels. Then, after mixing the food powders with seasoning and water, they pressed them into a mould under high temperatures.

All materials tested with the exception of the pumpkin powder proved to be of superior tensile strength, resisting a confluence of rot, fungus and insects for four months without any compromise as to taste.

Given the fact that food scraps are of great environmental concern, a method that allows for its conversion into a building material without sacrificing edibility opens the door to ‘many creative applications’, as the team itself terms it.

Final research results on the matter will be published at the 70th Annual Meeting of The Society of Material Science, Japan.