In the US, approximately 30-40% of all food is wasted according to the USDA. Generally, on this topic the discussion focuses on how to reduce this number with strategies for every stage of the chain from farm and manufacturing to the consumer. But Saba and colleagues (2023) have taken a different approach.
Focusing specifically on industrial food processing Saba and colleagues explored different potential options for using the various wastes to make other products. This is one of the characteristics of a circular economy. In many fields it is impossible to get rid of all waste, but by connecting different industries the waste from one can become the materials for the next. This results in valorization, finding value in something that was valueless and perhaps even costly if it costs money to dispose of it.
The researchers divided the waste into four categories: vegetable, fat-rich, industrial sludge, and starchy. They then looked at different potential uses for these different types of waste.
- High energy wastes such fat-rich waste and some industrial sludge could be used for different forms of energy production including using the soybean waste for biodiesel.
- Vegetable wastes were too low energy to make energy production feasible but the left over chemicals like antioxidants and pigments could be extracted and used.
- Finally, starchy waste could be used to make acetone which is a base chemical in many products like nail polish and paint removers, not to mention a staple in many labs.
The authors admit that their research is just the beginning. They hope that more and more food processing companies will explore these and other options to repurpose the waste they can’t reduce. If these reuse strategies help to also increase income for a company, that will hopefully increase the incentive.
Obviously, reducing food waste from occurring and having more food make it into people’s stomachs needs to be the first goal. However, there will likely always be food scraps or other waste that just can’t be prevented. Finding other uses for it is a good step towards sustainability.
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