Research : New Zealand: Project to raise economical value of biowaste

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The University of Canterbury are conducting a research project aimed at reusing food waste products.

Spearheaded by Environmental Science Professor Brett Robinson, the idea is to transform biological waste sourced from New Zealand’s food production industry-such as potato peelings or grape skins-into soil conditioners and animal feed. These products could help boost the national economy by as much as $1,6 billion.

The project as such could help remedy matters, considering that yearly, 2,2 million tonnes of untreated food processing biowaste worth $270 million end up in landfill, according to Professor Robinson. The endeavour as it stands could also help reduce 8 million tonnes worth of carbon emissions.

“We want to create economic and environmental value from biowastes by ensuring the nutrients they contain are harnessed to improve our soils and feed our animals rather than degrading our waterways and contaminating soil”

“Our overarching goal is to reuse and recycle our waste, helping to make our agricultural economy more circular and our food production more sustainable in the long-term”, Professor Robinson said.

The economic benefit of this research, valued at $1,6 billion, would also entail fewer imports of phosphate fertilisers and palm kernel expeller (PKE). These are used as animal feed and account for $300 million in costs annually.

In the global quest to produce sustainable milk and meat, the ability to source locally produced animal feed and soil conditioners would render New Zealand self-sufficient.

The milk processing industry in New Zealand accounts for nearly 800,000 tonnes of solid biowaste and 190 billion litres of liquid effluent annually. Professor Robinson argues that the transformation of waste accrued in said facilities into viable soil conditioners provides more value than its disposal on landfill sites. Similarly, potato waste in the form of peels, slivers and rejects have the potential of being rendered into animal fodder.

The seafood, meat and horticulture industries are also key waste streams with a high potential for contributing to a more circular environment.

The research team plans to develop microbial treatments (using bacteria and fungi) to turn waste products into animal feed. AI would be involved in determining the right micro-organisms for different types of biowaste.

The UC-led project is in collaboration with scientists at Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, Plant and Food Research and Lincoln University. A multi-disciplinary team of UC researchers, including Rebecca Hurrell and other staff from UC’s Biomolecular Interaction Centre, social scientists and ecologists, are involved.