6th Feb 2023
In a recent study presented in December 2022, researchers from Ohio proposed a way to repurpose large-scale industrial food waste into various profitable bio-efficient alternatives.
The research was authored by multiple scientists, including bio-emergent material scholar Katrina Cornish, first author Beenish Saba, Ashok K. Bharathidasan, and Thaddeus C. Ezeji. They suggested the economic benefits of transforming common industrial waste into fuels, biogas, or fertilizers.
Out of the 80 billion pounds of food waste in the U.S., approximately 2 percent of the disposed material belongs to food manufacturers and processors, leading this waste to pile in sewers and landfills. The study emphasizes the need to reduce this waste and limit the greenhouse gases it emits over time.
“The bioeconomy is becoming much more prevalent as a topic of conversation. In this case, don’t get rid of food waste. Make some money from it.”
Katrina Cornish, bio-emergent material scholar
The study is based on the process of valorization, or the rediscovery of value in something considered valueless. Manufacturers and producers throw away massive amounts of resources to dispose of waste, and researchers suggest that repurposing it would lead to more profit and gain in the long term.
Waste categorization and reuse
The study analyzed 46 waste samples, 14 of which come from major Ohio processing companies. Researchers would later categorize these samples based on their content, putting them in the range of fat-rich, vegetable, industrial sludge, or starchy.
Fat-rich waste is transformed into biogas after anaerobic digestion. Similarly, soybean-related waste maintains enough density to be turned into forms of biodiesel.
Vegetable wastes may not possess enough energy density to be turned into fuel, but they often provide enough nutrients to be absorbed into healthy compounds. Some nutrients and organic elements that can be taken from vegetable waste include pigments, flavonoids, and antioxidants.
Industrial sludge such as wastewater and food solids were difficult to characterize, as they had little energy density or nutrition to extract from. However, researchers concluded that they could be transformed into hydro char and used to improve the physical properties of some soils.
Certain peculiar wastes, such as tomato peels and eggshells, were also turned into carbon alternatives in rubber products. These materials can be used to reduce the need for tire’s petroleum-based carbon.
The study’s first author, food, agricultural, and biological engineering researcher Beenish Saba, said that the research results may help the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) achieve its goal of reducing 50 percent of food waste in the next decade.
“We aligned this work with the Environmental Protection Agency goal to reduce 50% of food loss and waste by 2030.”
Beenish Saba, biological engineering researcher
“In Ohio, corn is being grown to convert into biofuel, acetone, and butanol, and here we’ve identified other sources already available as wastes that you can also convert into those products,” Saba said.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, over a third of food in the world is wasted or lost. The EPA estimates that this entails over a $218 billion loss in the United States, amounting to around 1.3 percent of the country’s GDP.
Food waste has also become a huge environmental concern in the past years. An estimated 24 percent of solid waste in U.S. landfills consists of food waste, one of the biggest sources of methane emissions in the country.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture partially supported the Ohio study. Researchers pressed upon the need for large-scale industrial producers to rethink the effects of their waste, and consider alternatives to reduce their carbon footprint.