Waste streams in food: the perfect opportunity to develop sustainable, value-added products

23-Jun-2022

In the past, valuable biomolecules found in the by-products or waste streams generated during food processing, were either disposed of or applied in partial low value uses

But with the global drive towards sustainability and green manufacturing practices, the functional ingredient industry now recognises that significant amounts of compounds with valorisation potential can be turned into high value-added solutions for the natural additives and nutritional ingredient market.

Waste valorisation refers to the process of reusing and recycling waste materials into useful products. The process entails adding value to material, previously considered undesirable, to create new business and innovation opportunities. Currently, global food waste at the processing stage is thought to be in the region of 200 million tonnes annually.

Upcycling of manufacturing by-products to generate value-added functional ingredients and innovations is an interesting field showing high growth and ties in perfectly with Europe’s objective of reducing the recyclable (including organic) content in landfilled waste down to 25% by 2025 as per the European Commission’s (EC) Landfill Directive.

Organic landfilled waste not only takes up valuable space, but it is also a large source of methane emissions, contributing directly to climate change.

Moving towards a circular economy

The EC’s aspiration to move toward a circular economy is no secret. With the unveiling of the Green Deal, an ambitious plan to make Europe carbon neutral by 2050, businesses will be expected to work with closed loops of resources to minimize waste while reducing the impact of their actions on the environment.

In the context of food supply chains, closing the loop would mean making better use of food waste, surplus, and by-products as the innovative use of side streams and by-products becomes the new norm in a sustainable food system.

According to the Ellen McArthur Foundation, we are entering an era of rethinking and redesigning the way we make use of our waste resources. By implementing new perspectives, and fuelling this process of creativity and innovation, we will ultimately start building a restorative economy.

Measuring food waste

Most studies that focus on measuring food waste in the EU agree that the largest percentage of food waste occurs at the consumption stage, with the processing stage a close second. A report published by the EC compared six studies measuring food waste at different stages of the supply chain.

It found that estimates for waste at the processing or manufacturing stage could vary from anything between 12% to 41% depending on the product being processed.

It is important to focus on some key drivers that contribute to these statistics. These include inadequate control systems, inefficient operations, poor use of equipment, spoilage caused by suboptimal handling and storing conditions, damage incurred during transportation, and cold chain inefficiencies.

Prioritising valorisation potential

By supporting a circular economy at production level, we can transition from a traditional "take, make, use and dispose" system to one that recognises the need for long-term economic and societal resilience by creating products that can be used time and again as they continue to circulate.

As we draw closer to the EU’s target of climate neutrality by 2050, the EU Circular Economy Action Plan also highlights the importance of policy and regulation, by introducing legislative and non-legislative measures targeting areas where action at the EU level brings added value to the future of the circular economy.

Despite their importance, food loss and food waste are only one part of a much larger waste and sustainability challenge, and collaboration across industries and sectors all have a role to play in securing, if not a waste-free future, then at least one where waste is seen for its true value.

Putting food processing by-products through a process of valorisation, could result in nutritional compounds that are safe, of a high nutritional quality, sustainable and support public policies that have a critical role to play in achieving a reduction in food loss and waste and is in line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

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Keeping the food supply chain running is an ongoing and dynamic undertaking. Being prepared to adapt to the demands of the changing times is the only way to make sure that the future of the food system is both secure and sustainable for future generations, and the health of our planet.

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