reusing and recycling food materials

Repurposing waste for ingredients: reusing and recycling food materials

By Dan Hall - 24 June 2019

‘Getting more from less’ was a major ‘need’ articulated by our members when we asked them what they needed from science and technology. We’re all aware of the issues of food waste at the post retail and consumer stages, but it’s just as critical in manufacturing and processing.

The emphasis on reducing the use of resources demands using as much of the food material as possible – alongside the more obvious reduction of waste arising from pests, disease and spoilage, and minimising inputs such as water and energy.

Deriving ingredients from waste offers intriguing possibilities for those prepared to explore them. Many materials contain fibre, nutrients or chemicals (e.g. sugars, amino acids) that could be extracted and used in food or feed, or as feedstocks for microbial fermentations. Non-food uses provide options as well. Apart from established routes – like bio-digestion for energy - there is the potential to extract fractions for use in applications such as packaging and pharmaceuticals.

But there are challenges. Using ‘waste’ materials – whether it be potato peelings, spent grain, avocado stones or the flesh of coffee cherries – demands creative and innovative thinking. Different solutions usually have to be found for different materials. And this creates technical hurdles – from ingredient characterisation, product development or reformulation, process modification and optimisation, safety assessment and shelf-life trials, consumer and sensory tests, and labelling and regulatory support.

For example, a previously discarded material which is rich in nutrients or fibre might have no history of consumption and be deemed a novel food – requiring a dossier of information addressing its suitability for use as or in products. However, the incentives and the prize make it worth the effort. Even a relatively small increase in the proportion of a material used can, for a high-volume product with extended product runs, result in significant savings over time. Just consider the volume of autolysed yeast used to make a well-known spread – which highlights the twin benefits of a value-added ingredient and reduced costs of biomass disposal.

DEFRA has recently set a target of halving food waste by 2030 - as part of its waste reduction program. It is estimated that 1.8m of the 10.2m tonnes annually (worth £20bn) comes from food manufacture, with a much larger proportion coming from households. Over 100 companies have already signed the pledge and are starting to consider, though their business plans, how to achieve this.

Direct financial incentives are also available. Apart from the reduced cost of disposal, funding is available through Innovate UK to explore new applications. At Campden BRI we are currently working with a consortium project focused on using spent grain from brewing to create a high-fibre food ingredient. The project focuses on all aspects of the food chain from the raw material through to consumer science to find a way to repurpose the otherwise discarded resource.

We are always happy to talk if we think we could help you identify potential opportunities for reclaiming ingredients from waste, carrying out practical trials in our test kitchens and pilot process plant, or assessing the suitability of potential materials (e.g. functionality, safety, regulatory considerations, consumer aspects). Get in touch to chat with one of our experts.

At Campden BRI, we would like your feedback on the types of food waste that you discard and reuse so that we can build up an industry picture. Fill in this survey to take part. It takes less than two minutes to complete and we would love to hear from you.

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