The concepts of reducing food loss and finding ways to repurpose waste streams into viable, useful products are gaining traction as countries around the world look to tackle food security and climate change.
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The United Nations just marked its fourth International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste on September 29, and October has been declared Circular Economy Month in Canada by the Circular Innovation Council, a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting circular economy activities and benefits.
Why it matters: Food waste is a significant contributor to the greenhouse gas methane and threatens food security.
Canada’s National Zero Waste Council estimates almost 60 per cent of food produced in Canada is lost to landfill, where it becomes a source of methane emission. And the United Nations says reducing food loss and waste can increase the availability of food, contribute to food security and healthy diets, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Canadian agri-food industry is taking notice – and action. Earlier this year, the federal government announced the six finalists in the novel technologies stream of its Food Waste Reduction Challenge, where companies are competing to win one of two grand prizes worth up to $1 million each.
Chinova Bioworks of New Brunswick, for example, has invented a natural product called Chiber that improves the quality, freshness and shelf-life of food and beverage products and is suitable for clean label manufacturing. Chiber is a dietary fibre extracted from white button mushroom stems, which traditionally have been sent to compost or landfill as only the mushroom cap is generally used for food consumption.
Other finalists have invented a solution to control mildew and micro-organism growth in fresh produce before harvest and are using food waste to create menstrual products, textiles, compostable bioploastics and a stable form of biocarbon that sequesters atmospheric carbon dioxide. Winners of the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada challenge are expected to be announced in spring 2024.
Researchers at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland) have looked at waste streams and by-products in fresh produce and released a report last year that identified untapped potential opportunities for some of Canada’s most produced fruit and vegetable crops, including potatoes, apples, field tomatoes, greenhouse tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and carrots.
Vegetable and fruit processing, for example, generate large amounts of waste like cores, peels and pomace often rich in nutritional and functional compounds that could of interest to food manufacturers and extracted or converted through drying, milling, extrusion or other processes.
Apple pomace, for example, is one waste stream that has repurposing potential as a thickener and added fibre source, and a natural apple enzyme can be used as a gelling agent in sausage or to replace microbial enzymes used in bread production. Apples also contain a lot of pectin, which is used as a thickener in products like fruit fillings.
The report noted that on average, a single large processing facility generated approximately three million pounds of carrot byproduct, 4.5 million pounds of apple byproduct or 8.5 million pounds of field tomato peels annually – products that could offer economic and environmental benefits if new value-added uses were found.
British Columbia’s Crush Dynamics Inc. is one company that has gone down the upcycling path. Located close to Okanagan Valley’s wine producers, the business has a patented technology to upcycle grape pomace – what’s left of the fruit after wine is made – and other waste streams into ingredients designed to help food manufacturers reduce the sodium and sugar content of their products.
Producing two litres of wine creates approximately one litre of edible grape waste – the equivalent of about one third of each grape – with most going to landfill.
Crush Dynamics uses targeted fermentation to transform naturally occurring polyphenol compounds in grapes into what Vice President of Sales ShaunNRichmond calls an extremely functional ingredient that can help reduce the amount of sugar, salt and preservatives used in food and beverage production.
Their Ruby Purée, compatible with darker-tone formulations like sauces, chocolate, their Gold Purée, targeted at plant-based dairy and chicken alternatives, lighter sauces, sports nutrition, and breads, are already on the market and being used in North American consumer products.
“This is more than a product, it’s a technology that can be used in many different agricultural side-streams,” adds Richmond.
– With files from Bioenterprise Canada