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What to do with waste?

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By-products from food production pose a major problem to industry. FoodNavigator is seeking your views on how food companies can minimise their waste and put their leftovers to good use.

Several factors are driving companies to take another look at their waste – not least the issue of disposal. Some 4.1m tonnes of food waste coming solely from food manufacturers in the UK alone every year, according to the Waste and Resources Action Programme.

The rising cost of food is another main motivator; if a firm must pay for the whole fruit, they may as well find a way to use it all!

In addition, the health trend is stirring interest in bioactive and fibre ingredients that can be sourced from fruit and veg; and if a natural alternative to a chemical additive can be found, it is sure to have a welcome reception given current consumer preferences.

Science in progress

A cluster of recent studies have looked into the feasibility of using processing waste to make useful technical ingredients for use in other foods.

For instance, Spanish researchers found that portions of asparagus spears that are unused by vegetable processors could be tapped as a source of fibre, to bring both nutritional and technological benefits to food.

According to the authors of the new paper accepted by the journal Food Chemistry​, around 15cm of each harvested asparagus spear is used by vegetable canners. Half of each spear, measuring 15 to 18cm, is considered a by-product.

Meanwhile, a study from Italy has indicated that bergamot juice could be used to fortify fruit juice in place of synthetic additives, opening up a potential new use for a by-product of the essential oil industry.

While the essential oil of bergamot is used by the pharmaceutical, cosmetics industries and food industries (its primary food use is as an aroma for confectionery, liquors and tea), the juice is considered a waste product. Its bitter taste has precluded the juice from food industry uses in the past, and its disposal represents a big economic and environmental burden.

However mixing the bergamot with apple and apricot juice was seen to make it reasonably palatable for consumers – and to pack a higher antioxidant punch.

Industry solutions

While industry take-up or further investigation into the asparagus and bergamot examples is not known, there are some indications that companies are keen to put waste to good use.

For instance, UK flavour firm Ungerer has developed an innovative range of fruit flavours that uses fruit fibres as carriers in place of maltodextrose or wheatstarch, making a natural ingredient out of a by-product that can also boost food’s fibre content.

Other initiatives have failed to garner sufficient interest, however. In late 2006 Leatherhead Food International proposed a new project to uncover ways in which companies can use bioactives from waste materials to enhance human nutrition.

The aim was to identify plant foods containing compounds that have a specified biological activity, and find alternative uses for waste materials. The findings would have given participating companies a head start in an area that looks set to figure large in the food industry's future.

However despite industry being keen to wear its sustainability on its sleeve, the Leatherhead project did not take off as not enough companies wanted to sign up to it.

What do you think?

Know of a by-product that could be put to use – but isn’t? Has your company found an interesting way to reduce its waste load?

Please send your comments of no more than 100 words to jess.halliday 'at' by 8th September, putting ‘What to do with waste?' in the subject line.

We will publish a selection of the best responses, covering all angles of the debate, on Tuesday 9th September.

Please note that comments will be taken to be 'on the record', and the sender's name and affiliated company/organisation will be published.

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