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#13 Louise: Combating and valorising food waste

How can food waste be reduced and food production become more sustainable?

Louise Bartek is a PhD student at the Swedish University of Agricultural Science (SLU). She examines ways to combat food waste where possible and how to valorise it where necessary.

Department & Group: Department of Energy and Technology

Supervisors: Mattias Eriksson (main supervisor), Ingrid Strid, and Pedro Brancoli

Dissertation title (as for now ๐Ÿ˜€)

Environmental assessment of food waste recovery and valorisation of food by-products

Topic – in brief

  • Sustainable food systems and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
  • How can we produce more food from the resources we already have?
  • And how can we decrease the environmental impacts of food production?

Project 1 – Valorising protein side streams from potato starch production

  • LCA of potato protein recovered using genome-edited potatoes, which enables high-value extraction of both potato starch and protein.
  • In conventional potato starch production, heat is used to extract the starch. The heat damages the potato proteins as they coagulate and it alters the amino acid profile –> which results in a less valuable protein source. Genome editing allows a maintained amino acid profile so that the protein can be used in (human) food production.
  • The ‘wasted’ potato protein is today used as animal feed but could be eaten by humans if suitably recovered –> which is of greater value in terms of the waste hierarchy and future food supply.

Terms: Genom editing versus genetical modification (GMO): in genome editing, no foreign DNA is inserted (as is the case for GMO) but properties already present in the genome are either activated or deactivated

Publication: L. Bartek, N. Sundin, I. Strid, M. Andersson, P-A. Hansson, M. Eriksson (2022). Environmental benefits of circular food systems: The case of upcycled protein recovered using genome edited potato. Journal of Cleaner Production, Volume 380.

Project 2 – Surplus bread and bakery products, LOWINFOOD project

  • Currently, the Swedish bread supply chain operates under the so called Take-back agreement. This means that industrial bakeries are responsible for baking the bread, forecasting, transporting and placing the bread on the shelves of retailers/supermarkets, alongside removing and discharging the unsold bread. This limits the incentives to reduce bread waste generated at retail, and has been shown to contribute to considerable wastage of still-edible bread.
  • A lot of bread is often removed from the shelves prior to the best-before date even though its still of high quality, and only a minor fraction of this bread is reused as food.

Louise and her colleagues try to quantify and map the bread supply chains, in terms of where the waste occurs and why, alongside identifying what could be done differently, and what potential changes to the current system might infer in terms of environmental impact.

So far they have come up with the following potential solutions:

  • Adjustments to the current take-back agreement that allows retailers to manage bread waste generated at their stores
  • Co-logistics: different companies transporting goods together
  • Improved communication between retailers and bakeries (real-time data on forecasting, sales and ordering systems)
  • Different shelving: shelves that mimic abundance without using so much bread –> for instance using images or mirrors, a solution that has favorably been applied to the shelves with fruits and vegetables.

Project 3 – Plant-based Omega-3 from algae that are fed food waste

  • Aquaculture is one of the fastest-growing food-producing sectors globally, and each year about 1 million tons of fish oil (rich in Omega-3) is produced to support the global population with nutritious food and DHA. However, the fish oil industry is highly dependent on fossil energy and marine raw materials, which leads to the depletion of natural resources as the global demand for fish increases.
  • In aquatic ecosystems, DHA is naturally produced by microalgae and accumulated in fish via the food web. Research shows these microalgae can be cultivated in bioreactors using fatty acids derived from food waste. This solution would lower the demand for fish needed for fish oil, and is also a valuable solution for food recovery.
  • By assessing the environmental impact of substituting conventional fish oil with algae oil, this project aimed to support sustainable aquaculture and future food systems. 

Publication: L. Bartek, I. Strid, K. Henryson, S. Junne, S. Rasi, M. Eriksson (2021). Life cycle assessment of fish oil substitute produced by microalgae using food waste. Sustainable Production and Consumption, Volume 27.

Louiseโ€™s joys & struggles

Joys: having great colleagues and a great work environment!

Struggles: overcoming the feeling of never doing enough

If you would like to get in touch with Louise, check out LinkedIn, Research gate or write her an e-mail at: louise.bartek@slu.se

Louiseโ€™s funding: FORMAS, Horizon2020 and LTS-group.

The PhD LCA course i mentioned in the introduction (however, the deadline for this year has passed) link

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