While the world is worrying about how it will feed the projected global population of over 9 billion people in 2050, there is an important question to address first: how can we stop wasting the food we are already producing?
Over a quarter of the world’s food goes bad before anyone eats it. American and European consumers are the biggest food wasters, tossing out between 210 to 250 pounds of food per person each year. The cost for this is staggering—a study at the University of Arizona at Tucson estimated that household food waste in the United States alone adds up to $43 billion each year. What a waste!
However, a simple sheet of paper infused with certified organic botanicals and spices could prevent much of this waste.
Referred to as a “dryer sheet for produce,” just toss a 5”x 5” inch sheet of Fenugreen FreshPaper in with fruits and veggies and it fights off fungal and microbial growth, extending the life of produce by 2 to 4 times.
“Because it’s so low tech and low cost, it can also be used by large growers and those in the developing world as well as the mainstream consumer,” she comments. “Over 1.6 million people live without access to refrigeration. And, while the world harvests enough food to feed the planet, 800 million go hungry everyday. Plus, there is a massive energy, land, water and human cost associated with spoilage.”
Since launching in 2011, Shukla has been named one of Fast Company’s “7 Entrepreneurs Changing The World” and has garnered accolades from Newsweek, the Economist and many other publications. FreshPaper also placed first at the Sustainable Brands Innovation Open and was given the “Award for Change” at Harvard’s Elevate event. Most recently, Shukla took home the world’s top design award from INDEX in the Home Category.
Currently, you can find FreshPaper at Whole Foods Markets, Wegmans and other top retailers, however, as Shukla pointed out, the biggest opportunity for this produce-protector may not be in the consumer’s refrigerator. If FreshPaper were incorporated all along the fruit and vegetable supply chain, from harvest to warehousing, in developed and developing countries, it could ensure that much more produce ends up on plates instead of in the trash can or compost bin.
The inspiration for the innovation. The idea for FreshPaper was born when Shukla was visiting her grandmother in India and accidently used tap water to brush her teeth. Immediately, Shukla, then in middle school, began to worry that she would get sick, but her grandmother made her a spice tea from an old family recipe, and Shukla avoided illness. Wondering what else this concoction could do, she decided to try dipping fruits and veggies in the mixture to see what would happen. The formula seemed to miraculously keep the produce from spoiling. Shukla continued to experiment, spending most of her high school years “meticulously rotting fruits and vegetables,” she says.
While in college, Shukla attempted to launch a non-profit that would use her discovery to help farmers in developing countries bring more fruits and veggies to the poor, but ran into too many obstacles. FreshPaper took off, however, in 2011 when she started handing out homemade batches of her invention at a farmers market in Boston, Massachusetts. The response was overwhelming.
“People came back saying that it helped them afford to eat healthier because the produce they bought didn’t go to waste, or that it allowed them to eat their entire CSA share,” says Shukla.
Within 18 months Fenugreen was shipping FreshPaper to farmers and families in over 35 countries.
How it works. FreshPaper is made from a recyclable, compostable, paper that is infused with organic spices and botanicals. As long as you can smell its sweet maple-syrup–like scent,you know it’s still active. Each sheet costs 50 cents and can be used and reused over the course of two to three weeks.
Next steps. After launching in Whole Foods, Shukla was able to fulfill one of her original dreams of using Fenugreen’s FreshPaper to help the underprivileged have better access to healthy fruits and vegetables. The company’s “Buy a Pack, Give a Pack” program donates FreshPaper to local food banks. The first project was working with communities affected by Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey. Next, Shukla would like to expand into school lunch programs, and eventually start working with NGOs and small-scale farmers in developing nations. FreshPaper could also significantly help the organic industry. With a smaller, slower distribution chain and no chemical preservatives—organic has lost much produce to spoilage, but FreshPaper could lower this loss and make organic more affordable.
“Our mission is “Fresh for All,” Shukla says. “We believe in a world where access to fresh produce is not limited by distribution systems and cold storage. Everyone from farmers to food banks could benefit from simple innovations like FreshPaper. This is not just about sustainability, it’s about making healthy food more accessible.”
Kat Schuett is an award-winning journalist focused on sustainability, health and food justice and the former editorial director of Organic Processing Magazine. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.