Turning commitment into action: the next step in eliminating food waste:
Food waste is not just about the headlines from high profile campaigners like Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. The consequences of purchasing too much at the till and then throwing it away is only one piece of a wider set of issues. A less publicised aspect of this debate is the impact manufacturers’ biproducts and food production residues have on their production costs.
Major manufacturers like Diageo and Nestle are already generating value, lowering their carbon footprint and reducing production costs by converting bio-residues into bio-energy for use on their own sites, rather than letting production residues add to overheads.
The food industry is being urged to enhance its use of resources as part of a more circular economy (not only in Scotland with new legislation from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency – SEPA), but across the UK. Moreover, in the run up to Brexit we must ensure that our industrial sectors become more sustainable – while staying competitive.
As Britain’s leading brands reduce their environmental impact by applying more sustainable residue management practices, how can smaller food companies achieve similar changes to their handling of residues and boost on-site energy generation
Recent media attention is highlighting the impact that over-buying of food by households and issues such as premature food expiry dates contribute to vast amounts of food being wasted but this is only part of the story.
Reducing Food Production Residues
The food industry produces a range of residues during the manufacturing process, including a range of materials thrown away, without any thought of the potential energy they contain.
To make a difference, the food industry needs to address wastage along the entire food chain – during harvesting and primary processing, in manufacturing and dealing with residues such as surplus ingredients and product discards, as well as losses in the storage, distribution and retail chain. Technology can help businesses reduce these losses and generate value from them.
Following the Paris Climate Change summit, global food manufacturers are calling on governments, society and business to do more with less. The new global Food Loss and Waste (FLW) standard is a powerful new tool that urges countries and individual businesses to quantify how much food is lost or discarded, where losses occur and to report on it in a consistent way. The standard is designed to save money, protect resources, reduce losses and ensure that more people on our planet get the food they need.
Factors like energy use and getting rid of production residues contribute to the environmental impact of the food chain. These include losses during harvest and primary processing but also over-rigorous retailer product quality criteria (highlighted by Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall), as well as water and energy used in processing operations and outdated methods of residue disposal.
The wider environmental impact includes carbon emissions from manufacturing and disposal of residues. At IGD’s recent food waste summit major manufacturers made commitments to avoid losses and improve resource use. The will is clearly there and must be translated into action.
SEPA setting a trend on nudging manufacturing industries
Could SEPA’s new powers, targeting “a sea-change in Scottish businesses’ attitudes to resource use” (with fines of up to £40,000 for non-compliance) be the nudge the industry across the UK needs to embrace change and “set the trend on a global scale” by “going beyond basic compliance”?
Technology like anaerobic digestion (AD) is at the forefront of helping companies make better use of processing residues on their factory sites. Bio-energy from on-site digestion can supply base load energy for use at the point where bio-degradable residues are produced.
Biogas from the production residues can generate energy to power the factory (e.g.25% of fossil fuel at First Milk’s creamery in Cumbria or 13% of power demand at Nestle’s Newcastle confectionary factory). For materials like whey or fatty process residues, revenue from on-site AD can outweigh returns from other markets and provide a better return on investment than conventional treatment or disposal options.
The value of on-site decentralised energy from process residues, from technologies that can supply base load, generated where the energy is consumed, should not be under-estimated. Especially if they are reducing disposal costs, recycling water and cutting carbon emissions.
Revenue from on-site AD can outweigh returns from other markets AND provide a better return on investment than conventional treatment and disposal options, even for smaller factory sites.
To view our white paper that shows how bio-energy can also help get the regulators off your back and improve environmental impact – click here.