Upcycled crops used to make new, surprising products in Japan

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A woman wears a pair of jeans made from sugarcane residue while holding up another pair.

Upcycling crops that would have otherwise been thrown away is becoming more popular, from making denim out of sugarcane residue to cooking jam from concentrated banana skins.

As there is a wide variety of upcycled products, such environmentally friendly brands are likely to catch the eye of consumers.

Residue resulting from pressed sugarcane, a major crop of Okinawa Prefecture, is mostly discarded as waste. However, Naoto Yamamoto, 44, who runs a consulting company in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, wondered if it could be used to promote Okinawa Prefecture instead.

In the autumn of 2018, Yamamoto started manufacturing clothing and other products under the brand name Shima Denim Works with other young businesspeople from the prefecture.

To make the material, the sugarcane residue is dried, ground and made into washi paper in Mino, Gifu Prefecture, before being woven with cotton in Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture, an area known for manufacturing denim.

Once it is made, craftspeople in Okinawa Prefecture sew the material together to make products, which are similar in appearance to 100% denim. The absorptive material is also said to be fast-drying.

A pair of Shima Denim jeans costs between ¥27,500 and ¥36,300 and can be purchased at a specialty shop in Urasoe, Okinawa Prefecture, as well as online. Sales in 2021 increased by 50% compared to the previous year.

“More and more people see the value of [the jeans], not only because of the high-quality material but also because it was upcycled,” Yamamoto said.

Shio-mikan is a seasoning made from mikan tangerines that would have been disposed of through fruit thinning or because they did not meet market standards. It is made by grinding and salting the unpeeled, rejected mikan.

Miyamoto Orange Garden Inc., an agricultural production corporation in Yawatahama, Ehime Prefecture, has been selling the seasoning since 2016. The company has also made jelly, a pasta sauce and salad dressings using Shio-mikan.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Seasonings made from discarded mikan tangerines

“We’ve been able to come up with a new way to use mikan,” said Yasukuni Miyamoto, the president of the company.

Oisix ra daichi Inc., a food delivery company in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo, began selling food products last summer. The company sells such products as sweets made from fried upcycled vegetables, including broccoli stalks, daikon radish skins and eggplant tips, which were discarded during processing.

Oisix ra daichi also sells jam made from imported banana skins. So far, the company has utilized 15 tons of rejected fruits and vegetables and aims to use about 500 tons every year in three years’ time.

“We hope [people] will be surprised to learn that the parts normally not eaten can also be delicious,” said a company employee in charge of the project.

Toshiya Kayama of Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting Co. said, “By creating brands that produce upcycled products, companies show that they are working toward SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals], possibly leading to behavioral changes in consumers.”