Achieving food waste efficiencies through innovation and global cooperation
An EU-funded cooperation project between India and several EU countries could transform the sustainability and competitiveness of the food industry, while having a positive impact on the environment. Using new methods and technologies the project is turning fruit and cereal waste into valuable by-products.
Around 90 million tonnes of food is wasted in Europe annually. This works out to about 180 kg per capita per year. Much of this wastage could be avoided, which is why the European Commission has set a target of reducing food waste in Europe by half by 2020.
The fruit and cereal processing sector is a prime example of where potentially valuable ingredients are not being fully exploited. This waste is often used in animal feed and for composting, but inherent biological instability and inadequate waste collection strategies means that this waste stream is still not as sustainable as it could be. As a result, a large amount of organic material is disposed of in landfill.
The NAMASTE project believes that this 'waste’ is a wasted opportunity. Food processing by-products are sources of valuable food ingredients that could be exploited in the production of new food products and feeds. This is why the project has been examining ways of collecting and treating waste streams, which benefit the environment and the economy. NAMASTE, which includes partners from both the EU and India, is one of the first joint projects under a coordinated call between the Union and the Indian government. A wide variety of food chain stakeholders have been involved in order to maximise the potential for innovation.
The ultimate objective of the project has been to create new market opportunities for the food sector on both continents. It also aims to satisfy the ever-growing consumer demand for 'simple and ready-to-eat' foods with improved nutritive value, novel shapes and flavours, colour and texture.
NAMASTE, which runs until the summer of 2013, has succeeded in developing a number of approaches – biochemical, chemical and physical – for selectively extracting and modifying cell-wall and intracellular components of fruits and cereals. This has enabled viable functional ingredients to be extracted. These have to be properly collected to avoid contamination by environmental agents. Potentially high-value ingredients include nutritionally- and pharmacologically-functional biopolymers, which can be used in fields as diverse as medicine and packaging.
The project has also examined how best to exploit the biodegradation of non-food-grade co-products, with special reference to the composting process and the interactions between micro-organisms and plant structure. This will also help to reduce the volume of by-products disposed of unnecessarily, with positive effects on the sustainability and economic competitiveness of both the European and Indian food industries.
In the EU, the project focused in particular on citrus by-products and wheat bran processing. It developed and assessed laboratory-scale experimental protocols to convert by-products into food ingredients and new foods with improved nutritional properties, along with a new citrus/mango-based feed for aquaculture.
In India, meanwhile, the project focused specifically on mango and pomegranate by-products along with rice bran. Technologies and processes for turning such by-products into new foods and feeds have also been developed. Finally, a proactive EU-India cooperation plan has been adopted to ensure mutual benefit, both in terms of knowledge generation and market expansion for the global food and drink industries.