Food Waste Recovery Improves Sustainability of Food Systems

Sustainability is the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. However, this definition is difficult to be understood or applied by organizations that have specific responsibilities to the society, beyond their economic and legal obligations. Responsibility means that people, planet and profit should be considered as a whole system, needing balance. By balancing the social and environmental elements of sustainability, long-term profitability could be achieved.

A food system is defined as the sum of all the diverse elements (environment, people, inputs, processes, infrastructures, institutions, etc) and activities related to the production, processing, distribution, preparation and consumption of food, and their socio-economic and environmental outcomes. Sustainability could be illustrated through the product stewardship concept, which is defined by the shared responsibilities that all participants in a product’s life cycle have for minimizing its environmental and health impacts. A product’s responsibilities in a supply chain do not end when the product is delivered to consumers. This means that product manufacturers, retailers, users and disposers are responsible for the health, safety and environmental impacts of their products across their life cycle (e.g. from raw material extraction to use and disposal).  Thus, there is a need for balancing food products responsibilities (e.g. economic, social and environmental) throughout the supply chain.

Today, there is a need to decrease food loss across the supply chain, but also to identify ways to best utilise discharged food mass. Although waste arises at every stage of the food supply chain, the causes of its generation vary depending on the supply chain stage. Effective food waste management will benefit all supply chain members.  Reducing processing food wastes by recovering valuable compounds and developing new products can significantly improve the sustainability of the food production system, considering the following ways.

Economic sustainability improvements

Effective waste management is critical to increase profitability levels of food chain members. Reductions in energy and raw material usage can reduce costs and simultaneously increase the environmental performance of the food system. This will be achieved through the efficient use of the materials and energy used for production. Efficient use of materials in the food waste recovery process has two meanings. Firstly, utilizing the material that otherwise will have been discharged, and secondly processing that material in an efficient way.

For instance, potato peels and processing waste water (intended to thrown away) could be used for the extraction of phenols and thus being transformed to a new material with an economic value. Cheese processing whey is another example that could be used to recover sweeteners, prior their implementation in nutritional supplements. Through the recovery of those valuable materials huge energy savings are achieved. This process could also enable compliance with different types of food regulations, which are used to check regulatory compliance of other food products. For example, the water insoluble fiber could improve intestinal regulation and consequently could be used to supplement food products or ready meals. Thereafter, economic benefits could be achieved since the need to buy ingredients or develop new products does not exist.

Social, economic and environmental sustainability improvements

Food security is defined as “a situation that exists when all people at all times have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (FAO, 2011). It comprises of four elements: food availability, food access, food utilization and food stability. Improving food availability (the constant delivery of sufficient food quantity to populations) increases food security. However, not only food production increase but also the optimization of currently food production systems will feed the continuously growing population. This approach includes re-utilization of substrates that are nowadays considered as food waste. Using the appropriate valorisation methods means that valuable compounds are extracted and used to develop new food products or even extending the shelf-life of already existing ones.

The creation of new food products could steadily increase food availability. For example, phenols and carotenoids from fruit processing by-products could be used as natural food or beverage preservatives as they extent product’s shelf-life and increase antioxidant capacity. By delaying product’s deterioration, food availability increases and subsequently people’s livelihoods increase. The recovery of food wastes valuable components could also help in promoting the viability and diversity of rural and urban economies. It is a hype area and there is a lot of potential in creating innovative and sustainable solutions. Finally yet importantly, the environmental impact of the food industry diminishes as the usage of primary resources is reduced.


Adapted from:

Galanakis, CM. 2015. Food Waste Recovery: Processing Technologies and Industrial Techniques. Elsevier. New York.



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