In today’s world, we face a double-sided problem: resource depletion and waste accumulation. The direct consequence is an increase in the costs of raw materials and waste disposal. The food production chain generates waste and co-streams at every step of the way from farm to fork to the bin. Dumping waste is no longer an option to be reckoned with. Burning the waste to turn it into energy and converting it into chemicals, materials, and food ingredients are current and future solutions to the mentioned double-sided problem. Food waste and food-grade co-streams, which often contain a lot of water, are better suited to conversion processes. End products can be new foods and ingredients and feed material as well as non-food and non-feed applications.
Valorization of the food chain waste can benefit many industrial actors
The problem of resource depletion and waste accumulation is best tackled by developing technologies:
- to reduce the amount of waste by exploiting it as raw material for energy, chemicals, and materials, as well as in food and feed production, and
- to prevent waste generation through efficient usage of raw materials, water, and energy in processing, and by preventing microbiological and chemical spoilage.
These technology solutions can be applied at every step of the food production chain and they aim to benefit farmers, manufacturers of food and food ingredients, food retailers, and processors of food waste generated in households and by consumers.
Technologies to convert waste into food
The technologies developed to reduce food processing waste by converting it back into food are mechanical, physical, enzyme-aided, microbiological, or combinations thereof. Vegetable co-streams can be processed bio-mechanically into edible films with good barrier properties. With microbiological processing, vegetable peels can also be introduced into the food chain as vitamin- or natural preservative-rich ingredients or E-codeless thickening agents. Further examples include bio-mechanical processing of berry and fruit press cakes (co-streams of juice production) into bioactive food ingredients and microbiological conversion of broiler chicken feathers into the feed. These are just a few examples to show the potential of cross-technological processing solutions to solve the problem of accumulating food chain waste.
As a result of the population growth, together with rising economic wealth in certain areas, the world will face an ever-growing problem of resource shortage and waste overload. There is an urgent need to find ways to convert waste back into raw materials to establish biowaste refineries. In Europe alone, over 100 million tonnes of food is wasted annually – Agri- and aquacultural waste is not even included. About a third of the food meant for human consumption is wasted. The Roadmap to a resource-efficient Europe identified food as a key sector in which resource efficiency should be improved. A major challenge here is how to reduce food waste without compromising food safety. In the EU, food waste reduction has a high priority, and the EC has therefore produced a waste prevention guidance document (and is targeting considerable research funding in this area.