Circular Challenge

Creating new value for food waste – The Circular Challenge of the Voedselbank

Circulair Challenge Portret 2020 LOGO-1

In The Netherlands, more than a million people live below the poverty line. The Voedselbank (literal translation: food bank) provides these people with donated food. However, even the Voedselbank is sometimes left with a surplus of food. What can they do with this waste stream? During the Circular Challenge, two teams of young professionals will explore new possibilities of turning leftover food into something of new value.

Joining the challenge are the Voedselbank Rotterdam and the Voedselbank Haaglanden. Because the flow of food that remains is quite diverse, they have been assigned not one but two Circular Challenge teams! One team will focus their attention on fruits, and the other on vegetables. We talked to the teams about the first impressions and ideas for this waste stream.

Photo above: Margot, Marc, Jeroen and Jörn from team vegetables.

The waste stream: fruits and vegetables

Location of the Voedselbank

“At first we thought that fruit would be an easy waste stream to work with, but it wasn’t until we visited the Voedselbank that we fully understood the scale of this waste stream and challenge.” the fruit team explains. Indeed, the teams are not working with just a few rotten bananas. Combined, the Voedselbank Haaglanden and Voedselbank Rotterdam are left with roughly 30.000 liters of fruits and vegetables per year (25.000 liter in Rotterdam, 5000 liter in Haaglanden, red.).

Not only is this a reflection of the major sustainability issue that food waste is, it also carries a financial downside with it. The costs of destruction are approximately € 38,000 (Rotterdam) and approximately €5,000 – € 8,000 (Haaglanden) per year. “That’s why we want to work on a solution that uses the waste stream in such a way that it prevents other food from being wasted in the future, if that makes sense.” the fruit team says laughing.

The challenge: a changing and irregular waste stream

Hrishrekh and Veronika from team fruit

However, that’s not an easy task. For both teams there is one major obstacle: “There is no data on what kind of fruits and vegetables we’re exactly talking about,” the fruit team says, “and the supply and quantities of fruits and vegetables varies heavily per week and season too. So that makes looking for a long term solution extra challenging.”

On top of that, the teams are asked to keep in mind that the Voedselbank exclusively works with volunteers. Partly because of this, it’s difficult for the Voedselbank to adapt business and logistics processes such as separating different flows of leftover food.

In the end, the Voedselbank hopes that both teams can come up with a high-quality, economically viable product that does not bring about a major change to the logistics process, requires little space on location, eliminates the current destruction costs and is scalable so that it can be used throughout The Netherlands.

Consumer products

A few of the participants at the Voedselbank

Halfway through the challenge, the team working with fruit has chosen a direction to go in. “We’re working on cutin extraction,” they explain. Cutin is a component of the plant cuticle which covers all aerial surfaces of plants. “It dictates how long a fruit can be preserved.” the team continues. “We’re thinking about making a consumer spray with extracted cutin that can be used on other food to improve its shelf life.”

The team working with vegetables, however, still has it’s options open. “Right now we have two ideas,” team veggie says, “we want to press the vegetable pulp in order to make some sort of cardboard or paper like material that can be used for things like single use festival plates. But we’ve also noticed that a lot of water is being released during this pressing process, so we’re thinking about making a consumer product with this residual flow of water as well.”

> Curious to see the final concepts? You can stream the grand finale live on the 2nd of November via YouTube. Each team will pitch their end product and a jury will pick a winner!

About the Voedselbank

The Voedselbank provides people who live below the poverty line with free food. The products that they hand out are donated by various companies and institutions and include products nearing the ‘best before’ date, products with incorrect labels or products with too much stock. By donating to the Voedselbank, a company or institution contributes to the prevention of food waste and saves on the costs of destroying the food. With all this, the Voedselbank contributes to two objectives: offering direct food aid to the very poorest and preventing the waste of good food.

BlueCity Circular Challenge

The BlueCity Circular Challenge offers established companies the opportunity to become acquainted with the circular economy by developing a scalable product from their own waste stream within six weeks. Participants are at the cradle of promising startups and innovations.

Does your organization have circular ambitions? Sign up for the next BlueCity Circular Challenge and turn your waste stream into a circular business case! Send an email to or give Niels Braamse a call on 06 82719180.