Finding profits in food scraps: Students and academics aim for creative solutions

 
Offcuts of food products can potentially be a valuable resource.

By JESSICA ROBERTS

International research and student-led initiatives at Monash University are aiming to transform food waste into profits.

A 2018 report by Sustainability Victoria found the average value of household food waste in the state was $2136.68 per year and that almost half of the population were not aware of the amount of food they wasted.

The Sustainability Victoria report also found that 64 per cent of food waste was avoidable.

Tony Patti is at the forefront of using biomass valorisation to reduce food waste.

Monash University Professor Tony Patti, in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay and the Monash Food Innovation Centre, is working on biomass valorisation –  the process of turning organic waste into more useful products – to reduce food waste. 

“This biomass valorisation approach looks at the entire fruit or vegetable and not just the part that is eaten,” he said. 

Prof Patti said the process involved extracting high value components from food waste such as pineapple skin or coffee grounds that would otherwise be thrown away, and repurposing them into viable products.

“The skins, seeds, kernels, leaves and off-cuts were seen as waste, adding to their disposal costs.

“These by-products are not waste, but a potential valuable resource, providing several components identified as being of high market value.”

Victoria Haritos, Associate Professor and Deputy Head of Chemical Engineering at Monash University.

Similar research is being conducted by Associate Professor Victoria Haritos, the deputy head of Chemical Engineering at Monash University, who works with food companies to develop solutions for processing food waste.

“It may be a review of the waste types and volumes they have and what their requirements are,” she said.

“Then the work may progress into analysing the wastes, and laboratory-based research into the best ways to transform the wastes into products.”

Using molasses – a by-product of sugar refining – in ethanol production, or turning sweet whey – a by-product of milk processing – into dried protein powder are examples of the outcome of A/Prof Haritos’s research. 

University students are also working towards reducing waste.

A new Facebook site that pushes for a better approach to dealing with food waste.

Joanna Murawska, a third-year materials engineering student, founded the Facebook group War on Waste: Monash Uni Edition.

“I started the group on the 31st of July, this year and it had over 100 members in the first 24 hours, all Monash students,” she said.

“The group now has 220 students and the number is rising every day.”

The group is used as a forum allowing students to share and discuss initiatives at the university that target waste challenges, such as reducing food waste.

“I also want the group to be used as a place to seek advice. Everyone is at a different point in their journey, so it’s a good place to gather ideas and brainstorm possible solutions to problems we’re facing,” she said.