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Biorefineries: converting food waste to bio-based materials

Converting food waste into valuable resources like compost and biogas through decomposition and other processes.


Food donation and redistribution programs

Redistributing surplus food to those in need through charitable organizations and community programs. Countries around the world have initiated addressing the recovery and redistribution of safe and nutritious food through, among others, developing guidance on the implementation of such actions.


Digitalisation against food waste

From software and companies that track and ensure freshness along the supply chain, some with the help of IoT, to apps to distribute not-good-looking food or left-over food.


Shortening supply chains to help reduce food waste (and packaging)?

A glance at where food is lost or wasted makes it clear that food loss/waste is generated in all stages of its supply chain. Shortening supply chains has, therefore, the potential to help reduce the amount of food wasted. Farmers directly selling subscriptions to fresh food boxes and similar initiatives could then help reduced the amount of food wasted. This is, however, an understudied possibility and the effects on the amount of food wasted may largely depend on the specificities of each initiative.


Sustainable packaging materials, less plastics and biodegradable alternatives

Developing eco-friendly packaging materials that reduce environmental impact. From biodegradable packaging to edible packaging. Plastic is an important and ubiquitous material but often the way it is used and discarded does not run along with the economic benefits of a circular and sustainable approach and it harms the environment. The EU has published a vision for circular plastics economy. Regarding the food system responsible consumers ask for the reduction of packaging - not only plastic - to avoid waste and environmental pollution, companies start rethinking packaging materials taking sustainability into account.


Prices versus Waste

It is often assumed that there is a correlation between food waste and food prices. However, their relationship is far from clear. Other factors seem to drive food waste much more significantly than food prices.


No package

The increasing demand for package-free foodstuffs and the proliferation of package-free stores create a positive feed-back loop that drives the rise in demand and availability. Despite the obvious environmental benefits of not producing packaging, consumers are responsible for the majority of food waste from the whole supply chain, so the package-free movement must pay attention to the undesired increase in food waste due to the shorter shelf life of some foodstuffs.


Food Waste Recovery Hierarchy

The Food Recovery Hierarchy prioritises actions organisations can take to prevent and divert wasted food. Each tier of the Food Recovery Hierarchy focuses on different management strategies for the food wasted. The benefits for the environment, society and the economy decrease with level height. Reasons: The FAO estimates that each year approx. one third of food produced for human consumption in the world is lost, degraded contaminated or wasted. A series of 

solutions may be implemented and are represented by avoidance and donation of edible fractions to social services or use to produce biofuels or biopolymers. A variety of (social and private) initiatives has evolved to use, e.g. vegetables not fitting the standard, waste cooking or up-cycling of non-food waste.



Food waste reduction and upcycling initiatives

There is a tremendous waste of food. This relates to all levels from the agricultural sector to the end consumer. One reason is packaging sizes. But it can also be short expiration dates or ignorance about the shelf life of food. Implementing strategies to minimise food waste and repurpose food by-products. Food intended for human consumption that is eventually lost or wasted contributes to food insecurity and hinders nutrition, in a world where one in nine people are undernourished. It has been estimated that the food currently wasted in Europe could feed 200 million people. Food waste is also an environmental problem because food production is resource intensive. Without a change in dietary habits and the reduction of food waste, the expected growing population and incomes will lead to an increase in demand for agricultural products of 50 % by 2050. In a context of rapid urbanisation and growing clarity regarding the unsustainability of cities, the project SHARECITY examined city-based food sharing economies and their potential to reorient eating practices. The project developed the first ever crowdsourced international food sharing database.


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Circular economy approaches in the food industry

Embracing sustainable practices that minimise waste and promote resource utilisation. Circular approaches are discussed in many EU contexts, e.g. by the SCAR Foresight, but there are also international projects fostering a circular economy in food systems. "Food is never waste - A global coalition" is a European initiative that supports countries in developing context specific interventions, ranging from policies and regulations to voluntary initiatives, to halve food waste by 2030 and reduce food losses by at least 25%. Sharing instead of owning can also contribute: Through the advancement of technology, e.g. digital platforms, social activities such as sharing, donating, neighbourhood help and swapping are gaining in reach and diversity. Alongside a growing number of local initiatives, this facilitates a shift in preferences away from ownership toward sharing

Sources:;;; doi:10.2777/025150;; Backhaus et al., p. 8; Albers et al. 2013, pp. 18– 19; Kelber 2012, p. 94;;

Biobased Packaging

Bioplastics are not just one single substance, they comprise a whole family of materials with differing properties and applications. According to European Bioplastics, a plastic material is defined as bioplastic if it is either bio-based, bio-degradable, or features both properties. There has been an increasing trend towards replacing conventional fossil-based plastics with bioplastics. Within the next years, the global production capacity of bioplastics is expected to reach a level of 7.85 million tons in 2019.


Packaging 4.0

Packaging 4.0 goes beyond active and intelligent packaging providing an interface to a rapidly evolving digital world, implementing Industry 4.0 concept into the food system. Packaging 4.0 allows digital connectivity and new functionality that also engages the consumer. Intelligent packaging solutions will communicate actively within the value chain, manufacturing, distribution and the consumer's home environment.



Vermicomposting is a process that relies on earthworms and microorganisms to help stabilize active organic materials and convert them to a valuable soil amendment and source of plant nutrients.


Fertilisers from "waste" and manure

Solid waste from the food system ends up in the toilet. Waste treatment plants can use chemical processes to treat this waste, with the goal of reducing the level of dangerous bacteria, called pathogens that could pose threats to human health. The goal of these treatments is for the end product to contain no detectable levels of dangerous bacteria. The waste material might be subjected to some combination of: Drying; Heating (Pasteurisation, the same method used to sterilise your milk); Composting. But the treatment methods aren’t 100% effective — and it shows several problems. Class A biosolids, the end result of waste treatment, are supposed to be free of dangerous bacteria. DNA testing, however, shows that there are still plenty of virulence genes in the material. And when biosolids are added to soil, the level of virulence genes increases even further.


This could lead to a greater risk of damaging crops that are grown on that soil. "This doesn’t mean that farmers and gardeners should completely give up on biosolids, or that they should no longer be used for crops. Biosolids, the result of cleaning the solid component of human waste, do also contain a lot of useful nutrients, e.g. phosphates, and chemicals that are great for plants. They also help rebuild depleted soil, preventing it from turning to dust and being carried away by the wind. Reusing them in a cycle is a better choice than just dumping or incinerating them… but scientists and government groups need to monitor the impact of human waste based manure on the microbes in the

soil, as well. A deeper understanding could help prevent some of the food contamination reports and recalls." (citation from


Food waste and resource efficiency

Food intended for human consumption that is eventually lost or wasted represents a complex challenge, as its reduction requires a change of established business practices and citizens’ habits. Globally, around one-third of all food produced is lost or wasted along the food chain, from production to consumption (HLPE, 2014). In a world where hundreds of millions of people go hungry, that is a stark indication of the inefficiency of current food systems. Food losses and waste often translate into economic losses for farmers and other stakeholders within the food value chain, and higher prices for consumers, both of which affect food insecurity by making food less accessible to vulnerable groups. Reducing food losses and waste would increase the supply of available food and strengthen global food security.

Sources:; (pg. 59);


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