Collaboration and new technologies offer growing opportunities for food processors and producers seeking to turn waste streams into revenue.
That’s according to Justin Sherrard, renewable energy analyst at Rabobank, who was commenting on the financial services firm’s latest report Don't Waste a Drop: Maximising the Value of F&A [Food & Agriculture] Waste Streams.
Speaking to FoodProductionDaily.com, Sherrard said: “The starting point is greater levels of co-operation within the food industry itself. There are examples of companies coming together and pooling waste so they can extract more value from it. The first area we’ll see is collaboration.”
Cross-industry networking could deliver big benefits for waste management in instances where returns were high, he said. However, these cases tended to work best where manufacturers and farmers were looking to sell on waste, rather than where they were looking to buy it.
This was because their need for organic waste without chemical taint limited the sources they could use.
Compost seemed to be one of the areas of growing opportunity for food industry waste, said Sherrard.
The rise of new technologies offered further opportunities to move from waste as a cost to waste as revenue, either through internal innovation or via third party help, he added.
"There are now examples in all sectors and in all parts of the supply chain of waste being utilised to access new markets for energy and materials, and generate higher returns in the process.
"These range from animal feed and fertiliser to fuel for energy generation and the raw materials for bio-based materials such as plastics and chemicals."
The Rabobank report cites several examples. In the beverages sector, these include 20 of Nestlé’s 32 factories around the world deriving 3.5% of its energy production from the 800,000 tonnes of coffee grounds the firm produces.
Starbucks is looking at the use of enzymes to break down food and coffee waste into materials that can be used to make a range of products including plastic. And in Scotland, Rothes Distillers produces heat and power from distillation of waste products that used to be sold as animal feed, Rabobank states.
It claims the renewed focus on food and agricultural waste is being driven by trends such as rising agricultural commodity prices, resource scarcity, corporate sustainability targets and growing regulatory pressure around waste disposal.
For firms considering turning waste into revenue, Rabobank’s report makes several recommendations.
Making the most of waste requires investment, so senior management must be engaged, often through sustainability targets, it states.
Companies need to know the strengths and weaknesses of their waste streams, it claims. Fibrous wastes are better suited to energy production, while those high in proteins, sugar and starch can be used in bio-based products.
Waste management partnerships are best managed close to the source of the waste, given transportation costs, adds Rabobank.