Verandi: Upcycling ingredients for the health of the planet and yours
For the Green by Iceland audience, it is probably no surprise that the food wasted worldwide is staggering and problematic on many levels. Estimates are that 1.3 billion tons of food produced globally go to waste.
These 1.3 billion tons of food never eaten equals about 1/3 of annual food production. Food with over USD 1 Trillion in value and could feed about three billion people yearly. To put it in scale, 28% of the world's agricultural area produces food that is lost or wasted annually. An area equal to the size of China grows food that is never eaten! Undoubtedly, the statistics can feel overwhelming, but change is underway.
First off, there are low-hanging fruit solutions (pun intended) that can markedly reduce waste. Such as improved logistics to minimize food spoilage en route and implementing more appropriate and tolerant food sizing and cosmetic standards to reduce rejection and offer more options for retail sales. The prettier a fruit or vegetable is, does not equal better tasting. Much more challenging is the systematic change in producing and manufacturing food. For example, estimates are that energy expended for each calorie of food on a modern Western dinner plate takes an average of seven to ten calories of input energy to produce. The enormous disparity that the seven to ten calories represent comes from fossil fuels to fertilize, harvest, transport, process, produce and distribute foods often worldwide. As the recent pandemic illustrated, distribution networks are fragile, staggeringly complex, and emission-intensive.
The good news is that companies and people want to make a change and see abundant opportunities. Rakel Garðarsdóttir and Elva Björk Barkardóttir are precisely the type of women to tackle the issue head-on. They discovered their mission—most interestingly—while having coffee at their favorite cafe. Both women consider themselves environmentalists and actively affect change through their work. Rakel started the Vakandi (Icelandic for "awake") movement, Iceland's largest NGO in the food waste sector, to harness the power of the consumer voices to shape public opinion and encourage sustainable food consumption practices. Elva is a lawyer, animal lover, and founder of free-range chicken farm Litla Gula Hænan (Icelandic for "Little Yellow Hen") and a humanitarian with a mind for environmental issues. However, when they started adding up that their favorite small coffee shop disposed of five kilograms (11 lbs) of grounds daily in the landfill, the issue was plain to see in their empty cups. How many tons of coffee grounds are large institutions such as hospitals, restaurant chains, and university campuses dispose of daily? Annually? These things add up fast, and the tiny coffee house represented only a sliver-sized sample.
(L to R) Verandi's beer shampoo bar (Photo: Rut Sigurðardóttir), Rakel Garðarsdóttir and Elva Barkardóttir, and Verandi's coffee scrub at work! (Photos: Rakel Garðarsdóttir)
With new eyes, Rakel and Eva began to see waste streams everywhere, and the ideas started to flow. In 2017, they launched their Reykjavík-based company Verandi (Icelandic for "being") to make and market goods that are entirely harmless to people and the environment. Products would contain raw ingredients considered waste by some but were still high-quality and full of potential but are otherwise thrown out, left in fields, or composted. They returned to experimenting in their labs—or more accurately, their kitchens—with the storied coffee grounds and developed their first product, a coffee body scrub. Today they source coffee from Iceland's most visited restaurant, IKEA. The blend of recycled coffee ground, sea salt, organic Icelandic seaweed, and pure oils remains one of Verandi's most popular products. Today Verandi has 11 products that they sell at retail stores in Iceland and through its online store.
"We wanted to make products that check all the boxes: no harmful ingredients, recycled packaging components, and are manufactured with sustainable energy here in Iceland. But most of all, we make good products that people enjoy." Rakel Garðarsdóttir
Verandi is as busy as ever, looking for new waste streams and experimenting with recipes to make just the right product. Rakel and Elva have partnered with local companies to supply raw ingredients such as cucumbers, crowberries, barley husks, cacao husks, and even beer. They have expanded out of the home-grown manufacturing phase of their growing line-up of products. They are now working with , an Icelandic pharmaceutical contract manufacturer in Grenivík. Pharmarctica has worked for many of Iceland's largest cosmetic and health care companies, such as the National Hospital, Sóley Organics, Icepharma, and BioEffect. PharmArctica's know-how has been essential in moving Verandi forward to find just the suitable blends, scents, and preservatives for the products while adhering to Verandi's passion for protecting the environment and making effective skin and hair products. It takes a lot of trial and error to get a new product right, and Rakel and Elva are there at every step. They still collect the raw ingredients, such as 50 kg (110 lbs) of rejected cucumbers, and ship them up north to PharmArctica for processing and manufacturing.
In an interview with Rakel, Green by Iceland asked about the most significant obstacle to getting Verandi off the ground and running? Rakel quickly responded, "I think we underestimated how expensive it is to do something new. The learning curve is steep—and we did a lot of learning by doing! But things like finding product designers and the right experts were time-consuming and expensive." While Iceland is a small place and people are very well connected, Verandi found it challenging to find local experts, such as an environmental packaging design specialist. Rakel highlighted that Verandi would not be around without the help of the Rannís Technology Development Funds and other grants that helped the company stay afloat during the start.
The push to overhaul the amount of food waste in most of the world will undoubtedly be a challenge. However, there is optimism with fresh perspectives from people like Rakel and Elva. While we may not always be able to eat all the food we produce, we can at least make the most of these precious resources. Look for Verandi's products on shelves in Iceland or through their online store.