A core principle of sustainability is the reduction -- even the elimination -- of waste, whether the waste is of materials or of energy. Waste is another way of saying "missed opportunity." Much of the material that gets discarded as waste can be used again in some way, often as feed stock for other goods and services. This process is commonplace for paper and many commercial metals and plastics -- but what about food?
The REPRO project, a research effort with participation from numerous EU countries as well as Turkey and South Africa, aims to develop new methods: for making use of the waste by-products from the processing of foodstuffs. REPRO is currently focusing on two main food by-product areas:
REPRO will develop cost-effective and safe integrated methods by targeting two high-volume waste co-products which have had relatively little research: Spent grain (barley residues from the brewing industry) and vegetable trimmings (such as leaf, stem and pod tissues). These co-product wastes are rich in plant biopolymers, phytochemicals, nutrients and micronutrients.
This will be achieved by focusing the multidisciplinary expertise of a Pan-European team of participants on 4 key scientific and technical objectives:
- Development of approaches and procedures for microbiological safety, stability and co-product traceability ·
- Development of a precision, enzyme-based bioprocesses to deconstruct and tailor co-product components
- Integration of the enzyme-based bioprocesses with modern physical processes, thereby developing hybrid bio-processing systems incorporating closed-loop water-recycling activities
- Minimisation of market risk for new processes by
a) Ensuring economic and environmental acceptability of new processes and products by the consumer, retailer, and regulator (fork-to-farm concept)
b) Developing sustainable dissemination and exploitation routes via stakeholder interaction platforms, and an international, web-based brokerage platform to link co-product producers, users and process R&D experts
Part of the motivation for REPRO is the EU Landfill Directive, adopted in 1999. It's actually a global warming reduction measure, as it seeks to reduce biodegradable waste in order to cut the amount of methane coming from landfills. "Biodegradable municipal waste" must be cut to 75% of the 1995 baseline by 2010, 50% by 2013 and 35% by 2020. As the first deadline is now just 5 years away -- and the second a scant 3 years after that -- EU nations are starting to wake up to the need to find alternative uses for waste vegetation.
Great post, and promising research, yet if I may point out that composting food waste and municipal organic waste is here now, fully compatible with these objectives, and yields a product that increases food yields, improves soil tilth, water retention and colloidal structure, helps sequester carbon in soil, and so on. Obviously it would be great to extract more useable products from "waste" before composting it, but we also sometimes don't notice the simple solutions right under our noses.
Good point, David.
I wonder how much composting gets done in the countries participating in this project?
I worked 1.5 years in Paris. Having lived in a city that composts the majority of its food waste (Halifax, NS, Canada) I was struck by the colossal waste that was casually produced in Europe. Not to mention the dog doo on sidewalks, but that's another story.
A deadline for municipal waste of 75% of 1995 baseline by 2010 seems like a joke.
And while it makes sense to also look for alternative uses for all this waste, I wonder if a green tax solution would have been more efficient. Instead of subsidizing researchers to figure out how to deal with the big breweries spent grain we could simply tax all large producers of biodegradable waste for using municipal services.
Good points, Daniel. Your example of Paris is apt: in the 19th Century, Paris had large-scale, thriving, intensive market-gardening centers just on the outskirts of the city. Compost for the gardens came from the horses of Paris, via manure and spoiled feed hay. They were pretty clever with low-tech uses of solar energy, too, using cold frames and glass cloches to grow vegetables all winter. You can find good documentation in "Intensive Culture of Vegetables on the French System," by P. Aquitas, a book which may no longer be in print.
As far as mass-market vegetable clippings I would imagine that you could puree them and use it as an ingredient for veggie-burgers.
And I though a by-product of spending grain was protein, which could be used as an additive or supplement.
All in all it is a good venture.