Agri-waste to get a new lease of life

Waste created by the brewing industry and agriculture could be used to create valuable ingredients for the food and pharmaceutical industries.

European beer brewers produce some 3.4 million tonnes of barley husks every year, while leaf cuttings and stalks from vegetables add up to another million tonnes.

Currently these products are treated as waste and tend to be either dumped in landfill or sent for incineration.

But now a pan-European project, led by the UK Institute of Food Research, is looking at more productive uses for the agricultural by-products.

The three-year Reducing Food Processing Waste (REPRO) research project will investigate how valuable chemicals can be extracted from the waste and put to good use.

The stalks, leaves and husks are rich in nutrients, phytochemicals and biopolymers which, the researchers believe, could be put to good use in food supplements, animal fodder and fertilisers and by the food processing, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries wanting to label their products as using natural ingredients.

As well as transforming an unwanted by-product into a valuable commodity, the project will relieve pressure from both increasingly ethical consumers and legislation on food processors to reduce the quantity of waste sent to landfill.

Speaking to edie Dr Sian Astley, European communications manager for the Institute of Food Research said: “Very soon there will be a legal requirement to dispose of this waste properly, landfill will no longer be an option.

“What we have at the moment is vegetable waste on an industrial scale and that is not particularly environmentally friendly as it rots.

“At the moment a lot of valuable resources and nutrients are going to waste.

“We’ve all heard of the vitamin C in potato skins, for example, and there are a huge number of other chemicals that are of use to us in this waste.

“The aim of the project will be to extract everything of value and leave an environmentally-neutral substance.”

The project, led by Dr Keith Waldron, is funded by the European Commission and the results will be made available to consumers and industry.

By Sam Bond

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie