Effective implementation of measures to minimise waste

In addition to improving good housekeeping practices, source reduction methods that may easily be employed at food processing facilities include making process modifications, substituting more environmentally friendly raw materials, and segregating waste streams for reuse or recycling.

After taking the first step of improving housekeeping, companies can move on to technology improvements and material substitutions. Such changes can require some capital outlay, however savings in waste disposals, and energy and water use, can result in relatively short payback periods.

A company's commitment to waste reduction should begin at the top. If managers fully support waste minimisation, employees will feel motivated to participate. Companies should consider writing a formal environmental policy that includes waste minimisation. They should also publicise their commitment to waste reduction, as customers feel good about doing business with an environmentally responsible company.

Waste minimisation training should be provided to all employees so that they are aware of the sources of waste generation and proper waste handling methods. Training ought to be repeated regularly for reinforcement and to allow for employee turnover. Employees should be invited to help design and implement waste reduction measures. A reward system will encourage employees to adopt waste minimisation techniques and to suggest changes in design or operating procedures that would reduce more waste. Companies have drastically cut their wastes and saved millions of pounds by following employee suggestions submitted through reward programmes.

Before designing a waste minimisation programme, it is important for companies to know what materials are being discarded. By examining their waste stream, companies can determine the types and amount of waste items being disposed of and decide which of the items can be eliminated, reused, recycled, or composted. A waste audit will help companies better understand their current purchasing, waste generation, and waste disposal practices. A waste audit also provides a baseline from which to measure the success of a waste minimisation programme. While collecting information about the costs associated with solid waste management, company managers who view waste disposal as a fixed overhead cost may be surprised to see the various costs involved. Checking purchasing records may also be an enlightening activity that encourages companies to change their waste management and purchasing policies. When conducting a waste audit of a facility, list all wastes generated, ascertain the composition and source of each waste material, and identify options for reducing each waste. Companies should also periodically reassess their operations and waste handling practices to ensure that they have not slipped back into wasteful routines and to identify additional opportunities to reduce waste.

Companies can use environmental management accounting (EMA) to get an accurate and comprehensive view of materials use and the costs of wasted raw materials. EMA provides information on quantities, flows, and disposal of materials and energy. This allows businesses to track and manage raw materials and wastes more accurately. EMA also improves supply-chain management, purchasing, inventory and production planning, and performance evaluation and benchmarking.

A number of processing options are available to vegetable, fruit, and meat processors. Solids can be de-watered to a moisture content of less than 10% and used for animal feed. Fermentation can add value to solid waste by creating fermented food or compost. Food wastes abounding with carbohydrates can be converted to sugars by a process called enzymatic hydrolysis. Solid wastes can also be directly converted to biodiesel fuel or converted to methane by anaerobic digestion.

The next priority after surplus food elimination or reduction is to reduce and reuse material within the production unit. This can be accomplished partially through more efficient transformations, better matching of supply to demand, and then reuse. By separating surplus food for human consumption, this enables the food to be recycled outside the production unit as either finished goods fit for human consumption or edible raw materials that can be processed into meals. A secondary option to food for humans is animal feed. Next on the hierarchy is the beneficial treatment of surplus food through composting or anaerobic digestion. Incineration or landfilling is the last resort (see Table 3.2).

If edible surplus food is produced, the food supply chain should make a commitment to recycle it for human consumption. Organisations such as Second Harvest and FareShare collect and distribute surplus food at all stages in the food chain. In the United States, Second Harvest collects and distributes 500 000 tonnes annually to the hungry. Several major companies such as Kellogs, Nestlé, Coca-Cola, Unilever, and McCain donate their surplus to this charity. In the UK, FareShare distributes 1500 tonnes of food per year from 100 companies.

Excessive packaging is being reduced and recyclable products such as aluminium, high-density polyethylene (HDPE), polylethylene terephtha-late (PET), and glass are being used whenever possible. Some of the

Table 3.2 The food recovery hierarchy (from Johnstona & Green 2004)

• Eliminate surplus

• Reduce surplus and reuse within processing unit

• Recover and recycle surplus outside processing unity (edible finished goods and raw materials)

• People first, animal second

• Beneficial treatment

• Disposal/destruction packaging changes taking place at food manufacturing facilities are the use of plastic liners in corrugated cartons used within a plant, use of HDPE plastic bags, and substituting foam food packaging containers with biodegradable ones. In the US, Tyson Foods created an incentive programme for employee feedback on how to reduce packaging. One suggestion to redesign an entrée dinner dish saved over a million pounds (in weight) of packaging per year. Food manufacturers that advertise their packaging as more environmentally friendly rapidly gain an advantage over their competition and improve their public image.

Automated technology is increasingly being used by food processing facilities to improve efficiency, control raw material inputs, and reduce the amount of waste generated. Analytical sensors can control contamination levels and flow rates. Although automation has been used for years by the dairy and beverage industries, until recently it has not been used to a vast degree in the vegetable, fruit, and meat processing sectors. Computers can now be used for evaluating conditions that, in the past, only workers could assess. The use of automation helps to reduce the chance of human error in the food processing industry.

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