New startups seem to think so.
Credit: © Sofi Pechner

You (might not) think anything of tossing overripe strawberries in the trash, but a growing number of companies are capitalizing on food waste, turning unwanted fruits, vegetables, stale beer, and more into profitable—and desirable—products.

According to a new industry census from the nonprofit coalition ReFED, the number of startups making food-waste products is exploding across the country. In fact, only 11 such companies existed in 2011—and now, the new census shows that number up almost 500 percent.

"What was once considered 'waste'—or an accepted cost of doing business—is now seen as an asset and revenue generator," Chris Cochran, the executive director of ReFED, explained to The Washington Post. In fact, these companies have redirected thousands of pounds of food from landfills, the newspaper says, and have inspired other companies to up-cycle waste as a way to increase their profits.

"As companies begin to track, measure, and understand food loss and waste, the economics of food waste solutions begin to look a lot more attractive," Cochran says.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2014, U.S. citizens tossed out 38 million tons of food, most of which ended up in landfills or combustion facilities, waste that became a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. Keeping food from those wastelands, however, are entrepreneurs such as 27-year-old Dan Kurzrock, a ReGrained cofounder who turns spent grain (from beer) into delicious snack bars.

"We're a food business with an environmental and social mission," Kurzrock told The Washington Post. "Our business is about tackling waste, but how do we do that without grossing people out? That's been part of the complication of dealing with this issue ... although it seems like perceptions have shifted."

And as Food & Wine heard from Ben Simon, co-founder of Imperfect Produce, a company that buys up and resells fruits and vegetables deemed too ugly for American grocery stores, he and many others see what farmers viewed as nothing but byproduct as produce that belongs on shelves and in kitchens. In the last year Imperfect has expanded from its homebase in the Bay Area down to Los Angeles as well.

Credit: © Uli Westphal

ReFED seems to agree with the sentiments of the entrepreneurs. According to a 2016 report, up-cycling efforts like ReGrained will save some 102,000 tons of food from landfills each year. If you're interested in purchasing products made from food waste, you can check out top innovators here.