Improving Sustainability and Reducing Food Waste During Manufacturing

farmer in field

As sustainability takes an increasing focus for brands and consumers, food waste is a growing concern. Around a third of food is wasted, according to the United Nations, with about half of that occurring between harvest and retail.

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When producing food, there is often a portion left over that is unsuitable for consumption, such as stalks and peelings and finished products not suitable for sale. More brands are setting goals around combatting food waste at a manufacturing level, but there’s not a one-size fits all solution.

Instead, there is a hierarchy of food waste strategies which can be applied in tandem and addressed through both standard practices as well as creative solutions.

  • Active prevention and reduction strategies are the best strategies for limiting food waste. By changing practices in ways that will eliminate or lessen the volume of spent and unusable materials, companies are best positioned to meet waste usage goals and may also reduce cost while improving profits.

hierarchy of food waste strategies 

When waste prevention isn’t possible, and attempts at waste reduction have been optimised, valorisation is the next step. By reusing, recycling or composting waste materials and turning them into products such as human or animal food, bio-chemicals or plant fertilizer or converting waste to methane to create energy, the amount of food waste and landfill matter is ultimately reduced  while simultaneously benefitting other products.

Disposing of waste in a landfill sits squarely at the bottom of the food waste hierarchy. Although food products can break down in a landfill, the spent nutrients won’t be captured in the soil and bacteria in food waste produces greenhouse gases which contribute to global warming. Disposal should be viewed as a last resort, after all other avenues of food waste reduction have been explored.

Creating a successful food waste reduction strategy

Food waste has a significant impact on both the food system and climatic conditions. Sustainability and food waste reduction is achieved by focusing on the optimum use of resources.

By exploring the various strategies across the hierarchy of food waste reduction and prevention, brands will be better able to provide environmental benefits and added value to their products, optimising efficiencies and gaining market share.

waste-manage-quotessustainable ingredient smoothie

To help prevent or reduce food waste during manufacturing, brands can consider the following updates:

  • Process improvements, such as changing manufacturing conditions that are contributing to products not meeting quality standards. For example, we’ve been able to reduce food waste at our plants by automating manufacturing steps that are more subject to human error, such as measuring ingredients. Our production and manufacturing experts are also trained to investigate other process-related solutions, like lowering cooking temperatures or using different equipment to achieve more consistent results.
  • Recipe improvements, such as modifying ingredient lists to produce products that are less subject to breakage, over-cooking, sticking or other negative outcomes during manufacturing. For instance, our teams recently added enzymes from our Biobake™ range to a cracker recipe to help a brand create a higher quality product less subject to breakage. A similar enzyme was used by a QSR when reformulating its hamburger buns—in this case, the enzyme helped create a more durable product, making for fewer squished and unsellable buns.

To create a more circular system, where food waste is made useful through the reuse of leftover materials and unusable products, strategies can include:

  • Material recycling and upcycling, in which food resources are kept within the food supply chain as food or animal feed. For example, in the production of orange juice, orange peels—which are valued for their flavourful zest—can be utilized as a natural orange taste ingredient, adding back in orange flavour to the final juice. Whey, which is a common by-product in some dairy production processes, can be upcycled into high value nutritional dairy protein ingredients. Other creative examples are being adopted by the industry, such as the use of spent grains from beer brewing in bakery products and nutritional bars.
  • Material reuse and composting, such as the conversion of unusable food waste and by-products into fertilizer or compost which can be used in the production of other food products. This strategy recently helped a customer achieve a more sustainable bone broth. The broth was made using bones from the customer’s chicken processing plant. When the bones were spent, our facility sent them to a fertilizer company, which was able to turn them into a garden fertilizer. While a food-based solution may be investigated first, opportunities to reuse food waste can exist outside of food, too.

Food waste is just one of several sustainability concerns in food production. To learn more about our commitment to sustainability, explore Beyond the Horizon, our sustainability strategy. For help investigating ways to make a more sustainable product, contact us.

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