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Valuable waste: innovation in the fight against food waste

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By: Giulio BurroniPublished: June 25, 2024
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The research of Spoke 2 of OnFoods supports businesses in monitoring and reducing waste, as well as exploring new technologies for the recovery and valorization of food scraps.  Giulia Valentini, Giovanni Scotti, and Arianna Rossetti from the Politecnico di Milano discussed these topics at the Mantova Food&Science Festival.

Food loss and waste are some of the most complex challenges to the resilience and sustainability of the food system. The current fragmentation of the food system is leading to difficulties in getting access to healthy food for two billion people globally. It is estimated that about one third of all food produced globally goes unsold, lost or wasted at some point in the food supply chain, from production to our tables.

The future of the entire sector requires a paradigm shift in the way we look at food and nutrition, at all stages of the supply chain. Waste is not only in consumption, but also in production, logistics and distribution.

During the last and eighth edition of the Food & Science Festival, one of the most popular events centered on the circular transition of agri-food systems was a panel curated by Politecnico di Milano titled 'Valuable Waste'. The panel presented results from several research projects funded by OnFoods, focusing on circular strategies in the food sector.

WAMM project

Food Surpluses and Waste: An Overview of the Italian Food Processing Industry

Giulia Valentini and Giovanni Scotti from the Food Sustainability Lab of the School of Management of the Politecnico di Milano presented the WAMM research project - which stands for 'Instruments for food waste monitoring and measurement at firm level across the distribution system'.  

As Giulia Valentini remarked, 'the aim of the research is to understand the current state of processes adopted to reduce food surpluses and waste in the processing industries in Italy. With these findings "we aim to identify the most critical aspects and then implement measures to improve better practices, while promoting virtuous behaviour to broaden their adoption." 

The first phase of the project involved a quantitative survey to observe the phenomenon in a large and representative sample of companies. The primary objective of the survey was to gain an in-depth understanding of the practices adopted by companies with regard to products, measurement methods and tools, and the management of surpluses, waste and residues, including recovery and recycling processes. 

More than 1,800 Italian companies were involved in the study, 76% classified as small, 20% as medium-sized and 4% as large, belonging to 10 different product categories: meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, oils and fats, dairy products, cereals, pasta and bakery products, other food products, feed and beverages.

Interview with Giulia Valentini during the Food&Science Festival 2024
The results of the survey reveal that more than half of the companies have not implemented or have not provided an answer regarding product measurement processes (such as weighing, counting data management, barcode scanning and the use of images). 

However, it was found that medium-sized and large companies tend to be more focused on these aspects overall.

As regards practices promoting the circular economy, the donation of surpluses to other entities and internal reuse are considered the most effective in reducing waste. 

Large companies stand out for the frequency and volume of donations and for the reuse of products through processing for sale in secondary markets, e-commerce or feed production. The same applies to food recycling and recovery: medium-sized and large companies are more committed and invest more resources in the development of efficient food recycling and recovery systems.

The results of the WAMM project show that companies that closely monitor food production are also more likely to adopt circular economy practices.

EXTRA-BIO & CHARACTER-BIO projects

Extraction and valorisation of bioactive compounds from food waste

Arianna Rossetti from the Department of Chemistry, Materials and Chemical Engineering at the Politecnico di Milano also participated in the 'Waste of Value' panel. The researcher is involved in the Extra-Bio and Character-Bio projects, which focus on the reuse and characterisation of compounds deriving from agricultural biomass and food industry residues.

In the ongoing search for sustainable solutions to reduce the environmental impact of the food industry, research has long focused on the valorisation and reuse of by-products and waste. The aim is to reintroduce into the market, after proper processing and extraction, nutrients that would otherwise be discarded.

The amount of by-products is large, as in the fruit and vegetable market, where 25-30% of components such as peels, seeds and stalks are often discarded. Similarly, in fishing and aquaculture, fins, heads and guts are often discarded at sea, generating 20 million tonnes of waste per year.

 

Thanks to the use of innovative and increasingly efficient extraction methods, it is now possible to obtain and recover bioactive molecules. These include peptides, polysaccharides, lipids, vitamins and minerals, which are extracted from the waste or by-products of various food production sectors: from fishing to forestry, from bee-keeping to food milling. However, several low-impact extraction methods are still too expensive to be adopted on a large scale. 

This is the reason behind the Extra-Bio research project, a collective initiative of Politecnico di Milano, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, CNR, ENEA and the Universities of Naples, Milan and Bologna, with the aim of optimising extraction processes to make them economically sustainable.

Interview with Arianna Rossetti during the Food&Science Festival 2024
A project directly related to Extra-Bio is Character-Bio. Arianna Rossetti spoke more specifically about this during her talk, explaining the research focus to the festival audience. 

The goal of CHARACTER-BIO is to obtain a comprehensive characterization of the various matrices resulting from the biomass extraction investigated in EXTRA-BIO. "This will lead to selecting at least one extract from by-products and waste of each agri-food and marine supply chain, creating a complete database that reports the chemical composition, nutritional value, safety characteristics, bioavailability, and stability of these extracts. We initially selected waste from the wine, blueberry, and coffee supply chains, subjected these wastes to different treatments to extract the biocomponents of interest. Our aim is to apply them in the green synthesis of silver nanoparticles, which can be used in the production of new food packaging with antimicrobial properties to extend the so-called shelf life of food, thereby reducing waste."

This blog post is related to

Spoke 02

Smart and circular food system and distribution

To valorize food waste and smart and virtuous logistics

Lead organisationCNR

Spoke leaderAntonio Moretti
Research projectEXTRABIO

Extraction of bioactive compounds and/or macromolecules from food by-products and wastes


Principal investigators

Sabrina Dallavalle,Angelo Santino,Daniele Pizzichini,Urszula Tylewicz,Andrea Bassani,Arianna Rossetti,Pasquale Ferranti,Fabio Minervini

Referred to

Spoke 02
Research projectCHARACTER_BIO

Comprehensive characterization of bioactive compounds and/or macromolecules from food by-products and wastes


Principal investigators

Sabrina Dallavalle,Maria Antonietta Panaro,Anna Valenti ,Pasquale Ferranti,Andrea Bassani,Arianna Rossetti

Referred to

Spoke 02

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