Introduction food processing waste the scale of the problem

The global food and drink industry is one of the largest industry sectors and is essential to all economies. This reflects its role in contributing to the basic needs and requirements of every living person (Maslow, 1970). Consequently, the last 50 years has witnessed an immense increase in the demand for food due to the rapid growth in world population (Fig. 1.1) and the associated increase in wealth. The response to these drivers has been an intensification of agriculture, food production, transport and storage. Values for global food production are substantial. Annually, meat production is in the order of 200 million tonnes; dairy milk production is about 514 million tonnes, cereal production (including rice, wheat and coarse grains) is approximately 2 billion tonnes (OECD, 2004). In money-rich but time-poor 'developed countries', the increased consumption of food has been accompanied by the explosive growth in food processing, with particular emphasis on the development of energy-intensive, ready-to-heat/eat canned, frozen, dried and fresh meals. As globalization increases across all sectors, such processing is now being carried out throughout the world, and many final products are then transported to appropriate markets.

Food processing creates waste. Of approximately 3 billion tonnes of waste generated each year in Europe it has been estimated that the member states produce in the region of 222 million tonnes of food waste and by-products across the key sectors (AWARENET, 2004; Fig. 1.2). A

10 9


1940 1960 1980 2000 2020 2040 2060


Fig. 1.1 Estimated previous and projected growth of the global human population

(Source: Various).

of s0 s illion 60 Mil

40 20 0




Vegetables and fruit



Fig. 1.2 European food waste across the different sectors (AWARENET, 2004).

significant proportion of this is exploited (valorized) to some extent, for example as a substrate for animal feed. However, large quantities of material are disposed of by landfill and other environmentally sensitive routes.

There are a number of reasons why so much food processing waste is produced, some economic and some technological. Traditional methods of food preparation result in relatively small amounts of locally produced domestic waste which, in the past, would have been disposed of as feed, by composting or through municipal waste disposal. However, industrial food processing, particularly that associated with the production of ready-to-eat meals, has created large, geographically localized waste streams which have generally increased over time as firms have sought to benefit from economies of scale. Furthermore, the majority of food processing systems were developed at least 20-30 (or more) years ago when waste disposal - particularly in the vegetable, cereal and fruit processing industries - was not the issue it is today. The amounts of waste, as a proportion of the raw material, are shown in Fig. 1.3. In the past, the value added by processing a portion of a raw food material to create a high-priced product outweighed the costs of disposal and, for many processes, there was little incentive to find alternative means to deal with the waste streams. Indeed, from a strategic viewpoint, such an approach would involve significant business risk (see Section 1.2 below). As a result, the development of technologies and approaches for exploiting waste streams was not such a priority; waste production remained integral to the development of food processing systems.

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