Upcycling of Agricultural Wastes

Upcycling of Agricultural Wastes

Neer Chuang(China Productivity Center Smart Agriculture Promotion Department)


Agriculture is the source and wealth of a country. Agriculture as a linear process, i.e. "production, manufacture, use, and disposal", used to constantly consume the earth's resources. Linear economy has the major goal of pursuing the highest possible production so that more emissions are actually produced in the process of promoting emission reduction, which has become a contradiction in carbon reduction actions. A variety of defective products or wastes are produced in agriculture, which are either decomposable or non-decomposable. Examples of the former are rice straws, fallen fruits, twigs and branches, and the latter includes plastic materials, such as sheets, ropes, nets, etc., which were used primarily to maintain the moisture of the land and prevent weed proliferation. These agricultural wastes are mainly disposed of by incineration or other inappropriate methods, which is not only a waste of the valuable resources but also increases global greenhouse gas emissions. In recent years, fruits and vegetables with poor appearance as called "ugly produce" are sold at lower prices or processed and marketed in new packaging as "compassionate shopping products".

Statistics show that the agricultural wastes produced in Taiwan include things that are produced in agriculture, fisheries, livestock, wholesale markets, and food processing. In circular economy, however, the "wastes" are regarded as "resources" and efforts have been made to achieve a zero-waste and zero-pollution economic model. The concept of circulation has been realized in the production model in major industries in many countries, to turn agricultural wastes into useful materials in global efforts. Faced with the depletion of agricultural resources and the deterioration of the global ecological environment, the development of "circular economy" has become the goal of all countries. Taiwan, as a member of the global village, must bear the responsibility to ensure the continuous and sustainable development of agriculture.


Promoting Circular Agriculture

The reuse of traditional agricultural wastes was mainly the use of crop residues for construction, heating, livestock feeding, and fertilization. In recent years, the reprocessing of agricultural wastes has incorporated modern technical elements of sustainable development. The following case is a good example. The "University Social Responsibility Practice Program" (USR Program for short) since 2018 was based on the core value of with "local connection" and "talent development". Universities are engaged in solving local problems with the principles of “people-orientation” and “local demands” needs, with the aim of meeting the needs of the local development. Beholding two major goals: (1) Integration of resources to assist local development, and (2) incorporation of regional school resources to assist in urban and rural education, the program aims to fulfill social responsibilities, and to revitalize the local economy.

Agricultural wastes turned into gold

Universities, with the assistance of the Ministry of Education, formed inter-collegiate and cross-regional teams to assist the implementation of the USR programs. For example, the Mizhi Community Development Association of Nanxi District, Tainan City, in the USR program in collaboration with Tainan University of the Arts, mixes the discarded mango and carambola bags with mango peels into the pulp for papermaking and the produced paper has a slight mango fragrance and displays various colors and thicknesses. Paper products derived include handmade paper and recycled dishes and bowls, to achieve circular agriculture with diversified utilizations.


Rush made into edible tatami chopsticks

Due to the rise of foreign cheap goods, the classic Japanese-style tatami has lost its market. Today, 80% of the tatami sold in Japan are imported from abroad. Also, because of the popularity of Western-style buildings, Japanese-style houses are getting fewer, and the demand for tatami is decreasing. The number of igusa farmers in Kumamoto was 10,400 at the peak, and now it is only about 500, according to statistics of the "2015 Crop Statistics of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries". The Kumamoto Igusa / Tatami Activation Liaison Committee used the 100% edible Kumamoto rush to make "Edible Chopsticks- Tatami." All chopsticks are hand made with 100% Kumamoto rush. The rush is kneaded into doughs and baked at low temperature. It has high nutritional value, with the dietary fiber content about 60 times that of lettuce. The used chopsticks can also be eaten as biscuits.

Party fun plates

Many local outdoor events are held for the revitalization of local economy and attract a large number of visitors in the town, where local cuisines like fried noodles, takoyaki, dumplings, five black rice cakes, rice balls, etc. are served on plastic plates. This produces a lot of garbage. To solve this problem, Marushige Seika, a Japanese manufacturer produces "edible bowls and plates" using shrimps, onions, purple potatoes, sardines, etc., which is a full exercise of imagination and also a remarkable contribution to the reduction of plastic items.


PANGAIA innovative ecological materials to create simple fashion

The world ecosystems are under great pressure from the huge amount of plastics and their disposal. PANGAIA is dedicated to producing valuable items from wasted materials. After the harvest of the fruit, the fibrous leaves are often thrown into landfills or incinerated, which damages the ecosystem and reduces the long-term fertility of the soil. The agricultural wastes like fibers of banana leaves, pineapple leaves, and bamboos are turned into innovative fabrics in solid colors. This helps reduce the fashion industry's reliance on cotton and synthetic fibers.

Grape Skin Sneakers

In order to maximize the use of grapes and make the wine brewing process more circular, the technologies which were developed by the Italian winemaking industry (which typically generates 6.5 billion liters of waste each year) for the reuse of discarded grape skins. The solid residues of grapes, combined with vegetables and water-based polyurethane, are turned into a bio-sustainable material, which can be coated on organic cotton to form a leather substitute. This is a material with at least 70% made of renewable and recycled materials. The rubber soles are made of recycled industrial waste (samples, prototypes, discarded products) to create a low-wash, durable sneaker product.

Natural Substitutes for Plastics

Gousto Meal Box Manufacturing and the Xampla Group have joined efforts to develop a film of pea protein, which is perfectly natural and edible, to serve as a substitute to other disposable plastic packaging. When consumers use Gousto's vegetable soup concentrate wrapped with the packaging, they no longer need to remove it from the disposable plastic or foil containers, but can simply place it, along with the packaging, directly into the soup, in which the film dissolves.

The appeal of this film is to reduce the use of plastic packaging. This transparent material is edible packaging, mainly made into an edible and soluble flexible film by extracting "pea protein". "Pea protein" is a protein extracted from peas and widely used in fast food, cereals, meal replacement shakes, energy bars and other foods. This film has similar advantages to plastics, possessing the same partition properties as plastic film, but does not generate any packaging waste like traditional plastic wrapping paper. The edible film dissolves harmlessly in hot water when food is cooked. It safely decomposes and turns into compost when discarded in the natural environment. It is estimated that this new packaging materials saves about 17 tons of plastics per year. Currently this is available only to Gousto customers.


Circular agriculture is gradually becoming a flexible system. Permaculture is no longer just a slogan. People are actively looking for more efficient use of limited resources in order to reduce wastes. The global efforts to convert agricultural wastes into resources, to avoid waste, and to seek reuse and remanufacturing is a significant key to environmental sustainability. This will help reduce environmental pollution, so that agricultural waste treatment can be processed in line with the ideal of sustainable agriculture and sustainable development.