In 2014, the first juice bar, JuiceLand, opened in my Brooklyn neighborhood. Piles of Instagram-perfect carrots, bunches of kale and bananas decorated the store. I began to routinely pop in for a freshly pressed elixir after my morning workouts, sipping the juice with self-satisfied gusto as I imagined the surge of nutrients entering my bloodstream. This alone allowed me to shirk off the $4.95 to $9.95 price-tag for the liquid clutched in my hand. Then one day, as I watched my colorful elixir – ginger root, apples and beets – being cold pressed into juice that dribbled out into a cup – I noticed that the leftover pulp was tossed into a black, plastic trash bag. I paused. “Excuse me,” I asked, “but what do you do with that pulp?”
The employee looked at me with an eyebrow raised. “We throw it out,” he stated.
“In the garbage?” I clarified. We had, I informed him, municipal compost in the area.
“In the garbage,” he confirmed. I left that day, my rosy cup of beet-tinted juice cradled in my palm, feeling far less self-congratulatory than all the visits before.
That day, I began a search into the facts and fictions of juicing and what I learned surprised me.
There is between 1 and 6 pounds of fresh produce in every 16-ounce bottle of cold-pressed juice. According to Modern Farmer, 175,000 tons of pulp—leftover from juicing—was dumped into landfills in 2015. This waste, they note, led to the emission of about 200,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In short, each bottle of cold-press juice that you drink contains 1 to 6 pounds of produce that could be eaten in its entirety as a salad (or two or three salads), but is instead pulverized and partially discarded.
I had naively assumed that juice companies would work to limit their carbon footprints, buy locally, and most certainly, support the agricultural community around them by finding a use for their waste. I felt like a sucker for the “good for you” marketing campaigns, wholesome imagery and somewhat illustrious, elitist branding that surrounds cold-press as a whole.
Juice is marketed in the good-for-you vein, yet the true goodness was getting a bit harder to track as I dug into the details. The vibrant pile of fresh pulp wallowing in the dark trash bag also reminded me also of all the good stuff juicing tosses to the side: the fiber and flavonoids found in fruit skins and pulp. Without fiber, we don’t feel sated. Without flavonoids, we’re missing many of the key antioxidants hailed as the reason to eat your fruits and veggies in the first place. Plus, many of the juices sold today pack nearly 40 grams of sugar into them, rivaling oft-reviled sodas. And finally, no, I wasn’t able to find any scientific evidence to support the concept of detoxing with juice cleanses.
If I was worried about nutrients, I decided, I should be taking a multivitamin or eat more greens.
Now three years later, with the cold-pressed juice industry raking in $100 million a year, I was curious to know if anything had changed. I stopped by the Juice Generation in Union Square, New York where an employee quickly confirmed my concerns: “We throw it in the trash,” she said when I asked if they composted the pulp. (The company’s website says they compost “much” of the pulp created.) I looked at another company: The Juice Press. The employees at the storefront I visited said they didn’t know what happened to the pulp. The company’s website doesn’t even bother addressing the issue of waste. Though they claim to have a “sustainability plan,” I was unable to source any details.
“It costs more money to compost than to throw things away,” explains juice company owner, Ann Yang. “There’s a cost to the environment, of course, but we don’t pay it right away.” This out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality, she argues, it a significant reason why many of these health-focused brands don’t find it important to also consider environmental health when pitching the benefits of wholesome living.
Thankfully, not all juice brands today are ignoring the sustainability issues of their product. BluePrint, Lumi Juice, Evolution Fresh and Misfit Juicery — owned by Ann — all either sell or donate their pulp to local compost companies or direct to farmers. Forager Project blends their cold-pressed pulp with grains to produce an organic vegetable chip. In 2015, Liquiteria delivered hundreds of pounds of vegetable pulp to Dan Barber’s Blue Hill restaurant for the creation of his wastED veggie burger, also briefly for sale at Shake Shack.
Even better, some juice entrepreneurs use the process as a way to mitigate the immense amount of waste already plaguing our food system.
In the United States, 6 billion pounds of “ugly” but edible produce are thrown out each year. And 10 percent of all food waste happens at the grocery level. Misfit Juicery dedicates itself to utilizing would-be-wasted product in their East Coast juices, opting to cold press ugly, misshapen and bruised goods from farmers and coops. “We envision a world where produce prejudice is a footnote in dusty history textbooks; where the nationwide conversation on food waste gets loud; where all tasty produce finds a place in our bellies,” reads the company’s website.
Founded by two recent Georgetown University grads, Misfit also plans to collaborate with produce distributors. “When you walk through a grocery store and see all the prepared and packaged produce, you should think about what it took to get the vegetable or fruit into that cube shape. There’s a whole lot wasted,” Misfit co-founders Ann Yang and Phil Wong told me.
WTRMLN WTR is another juice company utilizing imperfect produce as its main ingredient source. Beyoncé—yes, that Beyoncé—recently invested in the company that relies on ugly, blemished, and usually discarded melons for their sour and sweet watermelon water, putting a dent in the nearly 50% of all produce that goes to waste in the United States. Lumi also has an imperfect produce program and Evolution Fresh has begun to buy “second-cut” spinach and kale.
Companies like Misfit, Lumi, and WTRMLN WTR still give us reason to indulge. The next time you are craving a juice, don’t think of detoxes – think of food waste. And if you can, look for a bottle that’s making a difference in the lives of farmers, saving waste from our landfills and giving purpose to those delicious yet ugly fruits and vegetables.