BioCycle World

BioCycle February 2016, Vol. 57, No. 2, p. 6

Prevention A Better Food Waste Strategy

A new study by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NUST) concluded that the energy impacts of reducing food waste are greater than the energy impacts of collecting the food waste and converting it to biogas via anaerobic digestion or composting it. Published in the December issue of Environmental Science & Technology, NUST researchers developed a multilayer systems framework and scenarios to quantify the implications of food waste strategies on national biomass, energy and phosphorus cycles, using Norway as a case study.

Their findings include: 1) Avoidable (i.e., edible, vs. unavoidable such as peels and shells) food waste in Norway accounts for 17 percent of sold food; 2) Ten percent of the avoidable food waste occurs at the consumption stage, while industry and retailers account for only 7 percent; 3) Theoretical potential for systems-wide net process energy savings is 16 percent for food waste prevention and 8 percent for food waste recycling; 4) Theoretical potential for systems-wide phosphorus savings is 21 percent for food waste prevention and 9 percent for food waste recycling (when researchers compared what happens to phosphorus demands if avoidable food waste is prevented versus recycled, they found Norway’s need to import mineral phosphorus declined by 14%); 5) Most effective is a combination of prevention and recycling. However, food waste prevention reduces the potential for food waste recycling and therefore needs to be prioritized to avoid potential overcapacities for food waste recycling.

“Our work shows that policy and incentives should prioritize food waste prevention and that most savings can be had through a combination of prevention and recycling,” wrote Helen Hamilton, a PhD candidate at the university’s Industrial Ecology Programme. Researchers found that 17 percent of all food sold was wasted, most at the consumer level, partly because of the confusion caused by labeling. “Consumers often mistake ‘use by dates,’ which refer to highly perishable goods that pose a risk to human health if consumed after a certain period, with ‘best before dates,’ which merely indicate a food’s reduction in quality but not safety. This results in a substantial amount of food waste at the household level.”

Getting To Root Of Urban Tree Health

Tree planting is in vogue in American cities today. All 10 of the largest U.S. cities have some kind of program to increase tree cover. Ambitious “million tree” initiatives have been launched in a few larger metro areas, e.g., Sacramento, California’s goal to plant five million. Trees’ ecosystem benefits are numerous: capture storm water; provide cooling as they generate oxygen; remove pollutants from the air; and provide habitat for birds and many other critters. They help save energy and even prolong the life of asphalt. A recent estimate puts the economic value of trees in the Chicago area alone at $51.2 billion.

However, the mortality rate for urban trees is very high. Bryant Scharenbroch, a soil scientist at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point has been studying this issue, and identified soil quality as one of the significant influences on urban tree health. Often, municipal construction leaves soils in place that are nutrient- and organic matter-deficient, and often compacted. Scharenbroch has been working with Lakhwinder Hundal, chief soil scientist at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD), which operates the world’s largest wastewater facility. Hundal is charged with finding new and improved uses for its annual output of approximately 180,000 dry tons of biosolids. In 2010, with funding from the Tree Research and Education Endowment Fund, Scharenbroch set up 180 plots with five different tree species and a half dozen different soil treatments, ranging from standard commercial fertilizers to compost tea, wood chips, and Chicago’s biosolids. All treatments proved better than nothing, but biosolids were the clear winner: those trees grew bigger and faster.

Hundal has also worked with Nicholas Basta, a soil scientist and restoration specialist at Ohio State University on biosolids research, studying utilization in a grassland restoration at the sprawling steelworks south and east of Chicago. Biosolids amendment of the disturbed soils was successful, yielding a more diverse assembly of plants.

Circular Future For Plastics?

A new report from the World Economic Forum and Ellen MacArthur Foundation, entitled “The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastics,” suggests that applying circular economy principles to global plastic packaging materials could change the plastics economy and reduce wastage. The report, which assesses global plastic packaging flows comprehensively for the first time, was prepared with the assistance of McKinsey and Company and financially supported by the MAVA Foundation. It finds that most plastic packaging is used only once; 95 percent of the value of plastic packaging material, worth $80 to $120 billion annually, is lost. Additionally, plastic packaging generates negative externalities (for example, plastic waste lost into the oceans), valued conservatively by the United Nations Environment Programme at $40 billion. Given projected growth in plastics consumption, in a business-as-usual scenario, oceans are expected to contain more plastics than fish (by weight) by 2050, and the entire plastics industry will consume 20 percent of total oil production and 15 percent of the annual carbon budget (carbon budget based on international agreements to limit global temperature rise to 2°C).

The New Plastics Economy, outlined in this report, envisages a new approach based on creating effective after-use pathways for plastics; drastically reducing leakage of plastics into natural systems, in particular oceans; and decoupling plastics from fossil feedstocks. Achieving such systemic change will require major collaboration between all stakeholders across the global plastics value chain — consumer goods companies, plastic packaging producers and plastics manufacturers, businesses involved in collection, sorting and reprocessing, cities, policymakers and nongovernmental organizations. The report proposes creation of an independent coordinating vehicle to set direction, establish common standards and systems, overcome fragmentation, and foster innovation opportunities at scale. It can be downloaded via www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org.

Specialty Food Supplier Sells Food Scraps

Today’s most innovative and resourceful chefs already insist on using the entirety of their fresh fruits and vegetable ingredients in preparing their dishes. Now, chefs in New York City can order not just whole fruits and vegetables from their supplier, but cases of edible food scraps that can be used to make stocks for various dishes. Their supplier is Baldor Specialty Foods, one of the largest importers and distributors of fresh produce and specialty foods in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, which buys directly from domestic farmers and international growers and provides a full range of foodservice clientele with a consistent supply of fresh foods, prepared however they need it.

Workers at its processing facility, Fresh Cuts, chop, dice and peel 40 to 50 types of fruits and vegetables daily, creating 1,400 different products such as carrot sticks and shredded Brussels sprouts, according to a recent article in Epoch Times. Each day, this processing results in about 10,000 lbs of peels, fruit and vegetable tops, cores and more. Until very recently, these scraps moved from conveyer belts into large pipes that line the walls and ceilings of the production facility, and into a dumpster destined for the landfill — at Baldor’s expense. In early 2015, one of Baldor’s major customers was doing a waste audit, and inquired about Baldor’s food scraps. They worked with Baldor’s to research the contents of the dumpster at Fresh Cuts. It ended up inspiring a Dumpster Dive salad that featured old kohlrabi, lettuce cores, and celery cores.

To create new products out of waste has required retraining workers. Food scraps are placed in special containers, and then are packaged and stored. Fortunately, notes the Epoch Times article, Baldor’s food waste is “fully washed and sanitized, so it is about the cleanest, high quality waste around.”

Greenhouse Gas Inventory Tool

A new greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory tool — developed by the University of California, Berkeley Cool Climate Network and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District —estimates GHG emissions embedded in the production of goods and services that were consumed by residents in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area in 2013. The emissions estimates are based on the six GHGs identified in the Kyoto Protocol: carbon dioxide methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride.

The inventory estimates emissions for several hundred categories of products and services that are grouped in five basic sectors: transportation, housing, food, goods and services. It utilizes a full life-cycle analysis of the emissions generated by the production, shipping, use, and disposal of each product, regardless of where the GHG emissions were released to the atmosphere. The average household GHG footprint can be estimated at the neighborhood (Census block), city, county, and regional scale. Maps are provided to show variation in the size and composition of the average household GHG footprint both within cities and across the region.

The consumption-based emissions inventory will be used to help inform development of the Air District’s Regional Climate Protection Strategy, identify potential GHG emission reduction policies or measures, assist climate planning efforts by cities and counties in the Bay Area, and help educate Bay Area residents about the size and composition of their GHG footprint and how they can take action to reduce their GHG emissions.

Making Beer From Leftover Breads

A new beer in the United Kingdom, Toast Ale, is making inroads in the fight against food wastes. Founded by food activist Tristram Stuart, Toast Ale is made from bread crusts, unsold artisanal breads, and those thousands of unused ends of bread loaves. The brewers slice, toast and mash the bread to make breadcrumbs ready for the brewing process. It is brewed with malted barley, hops and yeast by master brewers at Hackney Brewery. The toasted bread adds caramel notes that balance the bitter hops, giving a malty taste similar to amber ales and wheat beers. All profits from the sale of Toast Ale will be dedicated to Feedback, a nonprofit founded by Stuart in 2009 that works with governments, businesses and others at a national and international level to catalyze change in social attitudes and demonstrate innovative solutions to tackle food waste. The first batch of Toast Ale was finished and ready for sale in January.

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