In a linear economy, people take raw materials, produce products, use them, and dispose of them. With our global population rising, a linear economy model causes problematic environmental effects. As a result, we are now turning to a circular economy that aims to eliminate waste by reusing and recycling products.
The circular economy works to close the gap between product production and natural ecosystem cycles. To close the gap, we need to bet on renewable energy and compost biodegradable waste. If there is non-biodegradable waste, then we need to reuse, remanufacture, and recycle.
Food Waste - A Growing Problem
Food production is inevitable, considering humans need to eat to survive. Let's take a minute and think about how many of us can finish all of our food at dinner? Giant portions create food waste - and I have not even addressed food processing and manufacturing yet.
Can you guess how many tons of food we waste annually? According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, we waste an estimated 1.3 billion tons of food globally each year, one-third of all food produced for human consumption. Sadly, the amount of food lost or wasted costs $2.6 trillion annually and is more than enough to feed all the 815 million hungry people in the world - four times over.
However, consumers' habits are not the only ones to blame – but they are the biggest culprit. According to ReportLinker, food waste breaks down this way:
Consumer waste - 60%
Production waste - 20%
Considering food waste makes up a significant portion of the waste stream, recycling and reusing food waste is essential for the circular economy.
The main question here is what can we do to turn waste into worth? Well, some major companies and startups are using food waste streams in non-food industries.
Startups Using Food Waste for Fuel
For instance, used cooking oil and fats can be transformed into renewable diesel fuel or sustainable aviation fuel. Manufacturers can also use these fats to produce renewable hydrocarbons for the production of renewable plastics and chemicals. Let's dive deeper into this.
Converting food waste to fuel is not new. Where producers get the waste and how they transform, it is where we see innovations. For example:
According to the World Economic Forum, Bournemouth, a resort town on the south coast of England, recently announced that the city council's waste collection vehicles would run on Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO), a name used for certain types of renewable fuels or advanced biofuels.
McDonald's in the Netherlands joined forces with Neste and logistics company Havi to set up a circular process in which used cooking oil is collected from restaurants and converted into fuel for food delivery and waste collection vehicles.
Blue Sphere, an Israel-based startup, develops waste-to-energy plants that generate biofuels from food and farm waste. These biofuels are then sold to local utility providers to power steam turbines for electricity production.
3PWL, another Israel-based startup, offers a process that converts food waste into feedstock for biodegradable plastics. The process involves breaking down raw organic waste and then fermenting it to create a "soup." Then the solids and liquids are separated and put to use.
Bio-Bean, UK based startup, develops coffee-based biofuel for households and industrial use.
At Sente, we appreciate corporations and startups trying to solve the food waste issue and contribute to the circular economy. The next challenge – incentivizing more institutions, organizations, and companies to do their part to grow the circular economy and close the gap.