New Study Proposes Profitable Ways to Repurpose Industrial Food Processing Waste

80 billion pounds of food is discarded annually in the United States, and about 2% of that is attributable to food manufacturing and processing. A recent study from researchers at Ohio State University estimates the best large-scale uses for food processing waste and proposes production opportunities ranging from sustainable fuel to electricity to organic fertilizers.

The Big Picture

The aim of the study was to put in place “the base model for food manufacturers who are wondering, ‘What can I do with this stuff?’” said Katrina Cornish, senior author of the OSU study and professor of horticulture and crop science and food, agricultural, and biological engineering at the university. “Our flow chart guides them in a specific direction and prevents them from wasting time trying something we know won’t work.”

Details of the Study

Researchers collected 46 waste samples, including 14 from large Ohio food processing companies, and divided them into four categories: vegetable, fat-rich, industrial sludge, and starchy. Then, they characterized the physical and chemical properties of each sample.

The waste type’s energy density and carbon-to-nitrogen ratio were used to determine the waste’s repurposing potential – for example, soybean waste has enough energy density to be used for biodiesel fuel production, and fatty waste can be digested anaerobically to generate biogas. Cornish’s lab has also developed a method for turning eggshells and tomato peels into fillers for rubber products, partially replacing petroleum-based carbon in tires.

Looking Ahead

The researchers see their study as a starting point, and in the future, they hope it will offer incentives for food producers to consider how they can make something out of waste products that are currently treated as trash. “We hope […] that food producers will actually look at their costs and their footprint, and see which of these approaches for their particular wastes will work best – which will be the least financially negative, and preferably profitable, and also minimize any carbon footprint,” said Cornish.

You can read more about the OSU study and its conclusions here.

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