Whole systems understanding of unavoidable food supply chain wastes for re-nutrition

Project: Research project (funded)Research

Project Details


The overall vision and ultimate objective of this proposal is to develop evidence-based whole-system change scenarios for using unavoidable food supply-chain waste as a source of functional food ingredients that accelerates resource-efficient sustainable manufacturing and circular economy in the UK. This is broken down in to the following inter-related task-based objectives based at TRL 1-3:

1. Task: Whole systems change and Circular Economy.
Objective: to assess implications of whole systems change on circularity and responsible innovation for upgrading of UFSCW.

2. Task: Waste Flow Modelling.
Objective: to assess the viability of identified food waste streams via bespoke modelling.

3. Task: Technologies & processes.
Objective: to assess current and innovative technologies and processes for exploiting UFSCW enabling accelerated implementation in future manufacturing.

4. Task: Environmental analysis through LCA.
Objective: to assess environmental ramifications of industrial technologies and processes.

The objectives will deliver the following key outcomes to enable accelerated circular economy and resource-efficient manufacturing beyond TRL3.
1. A comprehensive understanding and quantifiable assessment of the amount of food being under-utilised in the industry through the outputs of bespoke waste flow modelling.
2. Identification and development of routes that achieve an agreed measurable reduction and/or diversion of waste associated with improved environmental, economic and social impacts.
3. A targeted measurable increase in the efficiency of the production of food by the supporting industry partners (i.e. doing more with less).
4. A comprehensive assessment of the physico-chemical properties and in-product performance of a range of potentially novel food ingredients derived from our selected feedstock materials.
5. The development of flexible/multipurpose working lab-scale prototype systems that can take a manufacturing food waste and convert it into useful upcycled materials that lead towards TRL 3 in this proposal and beyond in the future.
6. A comprehensive systems change understanding of the barriers the food industry must overcome to implement the proposed changes.
7. The creation of high level reports and policy documents with insight from WRAP, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Anthesis Consulting Group, that serve as future drivers for change within the context of responsible innovation and ensure appropriate dissemination.
8. Alignment with HVM Catapults e.g. CPI, Manufacturing Advisory Service, EPSRC CIMs for acceleration of transferable research solutions leading towards TRL3 herein and beyond. 

Layman's description

Planet Earth is under severe stress due to imbalances in production, consumption, abuse and misuse of natural and man-made resources and, poor climate control. Our resources will be further stretched as global population increases from 7 billion today to over 9 billion by 2050. Industrialised nations are resource intensive societies heavily reliant of crude oil (petroleum) and gas for their energy, chemical and material needs based on traditional manufacturing processes. However, crude oil is a finite resource and its continued use represents a major environmental burden. Thus, development of new manufacturing processes and technologies based on alternative feedstocks, i.e., biobased and ideally produced as a waste or currently under-utilised, within the confines of a sustainable circular economy is of paramount importance nationally and globally.
Food and drink is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK, employing approximately 400,000 people with a turnover of £76 billion. Food manufacturing is a complex process that is in the main linear- rather than circular-thinking. A staggering 9.9 million tonnes of food waste and food by-products are generated per year in the food industry alone, of which 56% is considered unavoidable. Unavoidable food supply chain wastes (UFSCW) lost after harvest and along the distribution and consumption chain have a dual negative environmental impact: undue pressure on natural resources and ecosystem services and pollution through food discards. However, current strategies for dealing with UFSCW are rudimentary and of low value: these include waste to energy (including incineration and anaerobic digestion), where possible; animal feed and bedding; compositing; ploughing back in to soil; and, least preferable, landfill. UFSCW is unique as a bioresource: this readily available biomass contains a treasure trove of unexploited, bio-based materials and chemicals, with a range of potential commercial applications.
Our aim is to develop a whole ‘systems’ understanding of upgrading and re-utilisation of unavoidable food supply chain wastes, [namely: brewers’ spent grain; pea vine waste; out of specification citrus fruits; and out of specification potatoes], as a source of functional food ingredients. These four feedstocks are representative examples such that our methodologies and findings will be applicable to a wider range of feedstocks. Furthermore, key performance indicators such as amount of waste, pattern of generation, possible contamination with other food waste, seasonality, etc. will be used to develop an appropriate whole system thinking around food waste collection, reprocessing, and production of new food products.
The ultimate objective of our proposed research is to achieve a whole systems thinking “closed-loop” manufacturing of food products, with all input materials fully utilised. The ramifications and any unintended consequences associated with the proposed alternatives will be assessed, at an industry level, working with previously identified partners, and within a broader scope, determining the consequences of these changes in the entire UK food manufacturing sector, linking into the work of the highly networked EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Food.
Effective start/end date1/01/1731/12/18