Agricultural and food companies are converting what were formerly thought of as waste products into profit centers, according to a new report, "Don’t Waste a Drop," by Rabobank International.
Some of the waste products involve farmers, while others do not. For example, dairy farmers have to deal with an increasing volume of manure as their herd numbers increase. The European Union limits the use of manure as fertilizer and off-site disposal is costly. Global dairy companies such as Danone, Fonterra, FrieslandCampina and Nestle have helped dairy farmers install biogas plants to convert their waste into electricity and heat. "In general, renewable energy subsidies and the application of heat can make on-site energy production more profi table than selling the waste as animal feed," the report says.
Biorefining, another approach, processes waste into a variety of bio-based products, such as high-value chemicals, pharmaceuticals, bioplastics, fertilizers and next-generation fuels. Harvest Power and Orgaworld are retrieving valuable elements such as nitrogen and phosphorus from mixed waste streams. "The production of chemicals and materials is relatively new but can generate higher revenues than the unprocessed byproduct or energy pathways," Rabobank says.
The report gives several other examples:
• FrieslandCampina’s milk prism project refines the whey it once sold as a byproduct into "pure products" such as casein and lactose.
• Starbucks is exploring ways to use enzymes to break down food waste and coffee grounds into sugars and subsequently into succinic acid, which can be used to produce a wide range of products, including plastics.
• Corde and Helius are producing renewable energy from whisky distillation byproducts that were previously sold as animal feed.
"Globally, food waste statistics are alarming," the report says. "The need for action is only compounded by the water and energy losses."