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Earth First

Beauty Products Made From Food Waste

A lot of food waste, like coffee grounds, fruit stones and eggshells, is inedible. Find out how we can repurpose this inedible food waste in the beauty industry.

Composting is one answer for inedible food waste. By redirecting it from landfill to compost, we can reduce methane emissions and create a useful resource for farmers and gardeners. But there are also more surprising ways to get value out of coffee grounds, like the innovative start-up, UpCircle Beauty which was founded by brother and sister duo Anna and Will.

FoodUnfolded interviewed Anna to discover how UpCircle is turning inedible food into something far more glamorous.

David: Hi Anna. Thanks for joining us. Can you start by describing the concept of UpCircle Beauty to those who haven’t heard of you yet?

Anna: Of course! We are a skincare brand whose concept is about promoting the circular economy: finding new uses for ingredients that would otherwise be discarded. Every single product we put out is made with a core repurposed ingredient, so each product has its own unique story. We are trying to challenge people’s perspectives on what they consider "waste". 

David: OK, sounds great. Where did the idea come from?

Anna: The initial inspiration came from the idea to recycle coffee waste. My brother was living in central London with his now wife, and they had just been bought a cafetière. They were making fresh coffee every morning, but without a garden, they didn’t have anywhere to place the grounds, which seemed like such a waste. He ended up going to local coffee shops to find out what they were doing with theirs. He was shocked to find out that they produce so many coffee grounds that they have to pay the council to have it all disposed of at a landfill!

David: So that made you realise there was all this wasted resource, but what gave you the idea to turn this coffee into a beauty product?

Anna: The coffee grounds have no more use for the food & beverage industry, but they still have fantastic skincare benefits. During our research, we learned that the level of antioxidants in brewed coffee is even higher than in fresh coffee, meaning it only gets better for your skin through the brewing process.  Facts like that make it much easier for us to communicate that we are not dealing with ingredients of lesser quality and that, in fact, they become even better for you after having been “used”.

David: So, what concoction did you make first?

Anna: We started making very simple formulations. While still working in our previous jobs, we booked a stand in the Innovation Zone at The London Coffee Festival. It’s a five-day show, but our coffee-based exfoliators sold out before the end of the first day! That showed us two things, firstly that the products worked, and secondly, that people weren’t turning their noses up at the idea of recycled ingredients in skincare. So, it was that experience that made us quit our jobs and go full steam ahead with the brand.  

Coffee was the first ingredient we worked with, and we gradually expanded from there. We now have four body scrubs and three face scrubs made from coffee grounds. Then we have a face serum that is made from the oil we extract from the coffee grounds. The coffee oil has no coffee scent, so people are very surprised, as it’s a delicate, floral smell. On top of that, we have three soap bars fragranced with repurposed chai tea spices that have been used to make chai syrups.  And finally, we have our fruit stone range, using the by-products from fruit oil production. Our face mask, for example, is made from powdered olive stones left over after making olive oil!

The only limit is our imagination! Going back to coffee, if we carry on at our current rate of growth, within the next five years we will have saved over 1000 tonnes of coffee from going to landfill.

David: That’s incredible. Have you always been aware of food waste? 

Anna: Absolutely, particularly given my background managing supermarkets - it was pretty bleak seeing how much food ended up in the bin! The issue is that because food is an organic ingredient, you often don’t associate it with having a huge negative environmental impact, but it’s not that simple.

For example, everyone is aware that coffee cups are no good as they don’t biodegrade, but no one thinks about the actual coffee as a problem. Unfortunately, coffee only biodegrades under specific environmental conditions. If you sprinkle your own coffee over your flowerbeds, then it can aerobically degrade, and everything is fine. However, 15kg bin bags of coffee, like those we collect from cafes would sit in a landfill and rot. Ans as organic waste breaks down without enough oxygen, it produces methane. I had no idea about that before starting UpCircle. 

Editor's note: Methane is a potent greenhouse gas - around 30 times stronger than carbon dioxide as a climate-warming gas. Its primary sources in the food system include livestock digestion, manure lagoons, the rotting of organic waste, and rice production. The good news is that methane only hangs around in the atmosphere for 7 - 12 years, so addressing it is one of the quickest ways to stabilise our climate.

David: How would you summarise the positive impacts you are having in the fight against food waste? 

Anna: What is exciting is that despite only being a small team of three, we recently hit a significant milestone with our coffee recycling. We have now collected 100 tonnes of coffee waste and transformed it into our coffee-based skincare range. That’s a huge amount to have saved from landfill! We started collecting from one coffee shop, and now we collect from coffee shops all over London, more than 100. Now that we’ve made a name for ourselves, we get individuals from other businesses and industries coming to us asking us what we can do with their waste products - like flowers or fruit pulp.  

David: Is there anything people can do with coffee grounds at home?

Anna: We share DIY skincare formulations on our blog, so I recommend that you have a go at making your own scrubs at home. But you can also use the grounds as compost on plants - apparently, slugs don’t like coffee grounds, so that’s a plus for your plants! 

I know there are other businesses doing some interesting things too, like using coffee grounds to make fuel logs, and I believe you can also grow mushrooms with them too – have a Google!

David: What are your plans for the future of UpCircle? Are there any other inedible food waste items you might look at? 

Anna: The next ingredient we are looking at is flower petals. We work among lots of florists and every Monday they throw out all the flowers that haven’t been sold in the previous week.  When I found that out, my head started whirring with ideas. But we are also trying to get our name out there more. We have just launched in Australia, and we are launching in America in 2020! We have lots of plans for next year - it is very exciting. 

David: One last question, are you hopeful about the future of sustainable products and circular economies?

Anna: You know what, I am. I don’t think this shift towards a more sustainable approach is a fad, I think it’s a permanent move. I think it has to be a permanent move. I think that things are only going to get easier. In the beauty industry we have been pioneering the by-product beauty trend, so we’ve faced lots of challenges along the way, but as more people get on board with our mission things will inevitably get easier. The future is definitely bright for people looking to work in ethical products. And for consumers, the products available will only get better and easier to find!

All images courtesy of Upcircle Beauty.

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