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Planning for a more bio-resourceful future

14 January 2019

Renewable energy consultant Jeff Cooper says that society needs to reduce food and other bio-resource waste as well as ensure greater re-use of what’s left over.

Planning for a more bio-resourceful future
Qube Renewables’ flat-pack anaerobic digesters can produce biogas for cooking and heating within two days of being filled with food waste, sewage and other biodegradable waste.

Bio-resources and the bio-economy are of significance to everyone: from those living from the land on a subsistence basis through to the most sophisticated agro-industrial businesses.

In a world where climate change and resource crises are intensifying, there’s a need to ensure that we plan for all aspects of our bio-economy to be resilient enough to tackle these issues.

The United Nations’ sustainable development goals have placed emphasis on the reduction of food wastage throughout the supply chain by 50% by 2030.

In developing economies, the greatest wastage occurs in the earliest stages of the supply chain from the farmer to the local market. In contrast, in developed economies, the greatest wastage occurs in the latter stages of the supply chain and especially with the consumer, whether purchasing intended for home consumption or away from home.

The EU's bio-economy strategy originally signed off in 2012 has been revised as part of the circular economy package produced by the EU Commission in December 2015, and has now been published.

This is to refocus the bio-economy strategy to ensure there is a close link to join it more firmly with other aspects of the circular economy package, which was passed through all its EU procedures on 4 July 2018.

Problems and opportunities

Increasingly, it’s being recognised that the many different factors associated with the wastage of food and a multitude of other bio-resources throughout their production cycle needs to be addressed, such as from forestry, agriculture and the natural environment.

In addition, there are many opportunities to use bio-resources from a variety of their waste sources to contribute to the development of a more circular economy on local, regional and international levels.

In>ICE has just published a themed issue of its Waste and Resource Management journal to cover all these aspects: from Ciuffa et al. (2018) on the bio-resources in catering establishments in central London through to a regional economy perspective by Curry al. (2018) of the potential resource that could be yielded from a range of feedstocks readily available in Northern Ireland.

Cooper's briefing article (Cooper, 2018) reviews the current concern with the farm-to-fork perspective in the UK to minimise waste throughout the food production chain, which is now focusing on the earlier production stages. Pérez-Camacho and Curry (2018) analyse the full range of bio-resources that are potentially available to be harvested for further utilisation for resource and/or energy recovery through a detailed assessment of those potential resources and the options available in Northern Ireland. Their focus is specifically on the potential of anaerobic treatment through biorefinery processing to deliver a range of materials with further uses within the wider economy.

Reducing food waste

Ciuffa et al. (2018) go to the other end of the bio-resource waste management chain, at least in the leisure catering sector. They examine the potential to improve the likelihood of those establishments undertaking greater separation of food wastes by enhancing food waste storage capacity for smaller establishments by using vacuum-packaging.

However, as with all aspects of waste management, it’s individual behaviour and their decision-making processes that are crucial to enable people to contribute to the reduction of food waste and its environmental consequences – whether that’s restaurant staff or their customers.

Cooper (2018) covers the full spectrum of food production and the ways in which waste can be generated from every stage, from farm to fork in the UK.

Sadly, despite the progress that had been made in the period after 2008 in cutting down household food waste, the amount of food waste generated in the UK has increased slightly over the last four years.

Nevertheless, there’s still work to be done to prevent food waste losses in the processing and food manufacturing sectors of the food supply chain.

Building the bio-economy

The bio-resource agenda is being emphasised in the EU's circular economy package.

It will be essential to ensure that there are suitable support mechanisms that are available so that in future the bio-economy can provide a range of materials and products that can be generated from a variety of bio-sourced materials, as demonstrated by the article by Pérez-Camacho and Curry (2018).

In the context of the transition to the new circular economy, there will be a need to provide a full range of options to improve the management of bio-resources throughout the whole global economy.

  • Jeff Cooper , Editor in Chief - Waste and Resource Management, ICE