Business as usual with food waste has serious consequences for the climate and the economy. Fran Molloy reports
Australia’s agriculture industry produces some of the freshest and healthiest food in the world. Workers in the agrifood industry spend long hours preparing soils, planting seeds, watering and fertilising crops, and carefully harvesting and transporting foods to market. But nearly half of all the food we produce goes to waste.
“Food waste is a really huge issue, wasting about $20 billion every year in Australia alone. It’s also the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases,” says Dr Steven Lapidge, CEO of the Fight Food Waste CRC.
The Fight Food Waste CRC began in 2018 and has 50 industry and 10 research partners bringing $63 million cash and $57 million in-kind contributions over the 10-year term. The CRC will reduce food waste throughout the supply chain, transform unavoidable waste into high-value products and run programs to deliver a national behaviour change program.
In developed countries such as Australia, around half of food waste occurs in households. The rest occurs across the supply chain, from agriculture, to post-harvest, to processing, delivery, distribution and food services.
More than 70 per cent of Australians want to reduce food waste, says Lapidge. “We are following up our first big study around household food waste behaviour with an economic study to work out how much food people throw away each year and what that costs the average household.”
From second-best to a brand new market
One food waste win is happening in the potato industry, where around 40 per cent of premium potatoes destined for supermarket shelves are ‘graded out’ for flaws such as size, shape or blemishes. Lapidge says the CRC is working on a large market opportunity. Australia currently imports 20,000 tonnes of potato starch for commercial use which could easily divert waste potatoes to develop a starch industry.
“Through the CRC, four of our largest commercial potato growers have come together to develop alternative value chains for the graded-out potatoes that currently go to low-value uses such as composting, animal feed and even landfill,” he says.
Lapidge explains that most individual growers would struggle to develop a large-scale potato starch production facility on their own, but working together through a CRC makes this and other alternatives feasible. These second-best potatoes could be turned into potato starch, but may have even better value as nutraceuticals or prebiotics, which have a higher value.
Another similar project underway with Swinburne University and Swiss Wellness involves diverting wine industry waste – grape marc – into valuable products. “Grape seed extract is one of the most popular products in the nutraceutical market and has got well demonstrated benefits as an antioxidant, yet we import all our grape seed extract from overseas,” says Lapidge.
He says the CRC’s Transform program diverts waste from horticultural production — such as grape seeds or potatoes that don’t make the grade — into nutraceuticals and other products, which saves money but also generates new high-value income streams.
“Residual waste streams can even be turned into bioplastics or biofuels,” says Lapidge.
Waste reduction in other food CRCs Reducing waste through a circular food economy
FOOD AGILITY CRC
The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and Lendlease are part of a Food Agility CRC project using technology to develop a prototype community composting system, and establish Australia’s first sustainable food city at Yarrabilba in southeast Queensland. Residents are rewarded with ‘green credits’, to be exchanged for food-based goods and services. This urban agriculture model can be applied in other cities and towns.
Reducing waste with vertical urban indoor farms
FUTURE FOOD SYSTEMS CRC
The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision at QUT is developing automated protected cropping technologies in partnership with vertical farming entrepreneurs Greenbio Group. The vertical hydroponics facility in Brisbane supports 25,000 plants, using less than half the water and a quarter of the space of traditional hydroponic systems. Vertical farms also have less post-harvest spoilage and waste.