The amount of food waste and by-products generated in the European Union (EU) is approximately 222 million tonnes annually. The food industry produces an immense amount of biodegradable waste that causes problems in landfills and wastewater treatment systems. When buried in landfills, biodegradable waste generates methane (which contributes to the greenhouse effect) and causes the release of toxic materials that can contaminate groundwater. Wastewater treatment systems can be overloaded with biological and chemical oxygen demand (BOD and COD) from the sizeable quantities of effluents and residues discarded by food processing facilities. Solid waste generated by food processing facilities includes excessive packaging, waste oils, off-spec products, food waste, outdated inventory, empty raw materials containers, damaged pallets, spent and dirty filters, and sludge. All of these solid wastes represent a loss of resources and money.
The most effective way to minimise the losses associated with waste is to avoid producing the waste in the first place. Reducing the amount of solid waste generated will lower operating costs, reduce waste disposal costs, enhance workplace safety and health, decrease long-term liability, help sustain environmental quality, and project a positive public image.
Excessive packaging has contributed to an overabundance of solid waste. Rising solid waste disposal costs, decreasing availability of landfill space, and consumer pressure are causing food processing manufacturers to re-evaluate their use of packaging. Legislation is also influencing packaging changes.
Disposing of waste in landfills has been declared unsustainable by the European Union. Disposal to landfill is the last option in the solid waste hierarchy. There are a number of reasons why landfilling is considered unsustainable. Disposal wastes potentially valuable resources and increases the depletion of resources. Landfills take up precious land space and cause water, air, and soil pollution. They discharge toxic chemicals into the soil and groundwater, and carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.
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