Discovering the value of food waste

Discovering the value of food waste

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IFSTAL was invited to a recent FoodWasteNet event on food waste valorisation, showcasing inspiring innovation while highlighting the need for researchers and industry to work more closely. IFSTAL Education Co-ordinator Annabel de Frece reflects on the event

At IFSTAL we are food systems thinkers. With food waste a key role in the system, I attended the recent FoodWasteNet event in Nottingham. Titled Field Waste Valorisation – the next steps?, this two-day event – chaired by friend of IFSTAL, Gavin Milligan of the William Jackson Food Group – aimed to share the latest research findings and place food waste valorisation into a broader context. One of FoodWasteNet’s main goals is to use industrial biotechnology to realise the potential of using food waste and by-products to produce renewable chemicals and biomaterials with added value and market potential.

Invited speakers gave an overview of economic, ethical, social and environmental factors that have an impact on the decision to valorise food wastes while researchers shared their findings from their FoodWasteNet BIV and PoC funded field waste valorisation projects from 2017/18.

The first speaker on day one was economist Giuliana Battisti from the University of Warwick. In her presentation, ‘The economics of the spreading of green and sustainable innovations’, Giuliana stressed how researchers, when working on challenges, must weigh up demand regardless of how innovative their proposed solution might appear. A great idea is a great idea however understanding the demand (if any) for any given solution before developing one’s ideas is the difference between that concept seeing the light of day or remaining a great idea, languishing in the back of a drawer. An ecologically sound solution is not necessarily economically viable and we, as academics, need to be aware of the market and understand the factors leading to commercialisation and adoption.

So how do we ensure great ideas flourish and benefit the world? More collaboration and communication, according to Giuliana. Those at the coalface of innovation – such as scientists, academics, those developing PhDs – must work closely with those in industry to understand demand and learn how to make their ideas viable and marketable.

My presentation of the IFSTAL programme, which followed Giuliana’s thought-provoking talk, built upon the importance of understanding different perspectives in the food system. At IFSTAL we aim to develop a community of high-level thinkers who can bring about food system change. Students who study with IFSTAL specialise in a specific area but they learn to see the whole picture, a skill increasingly recognised by industry. We also equip students with wider skills, such as the ability to network, to communicate the impacts of their research and to understand others’ roles in the food system. We see these as ‘skills for change’, attributes that will allow postgraduates to share and develop research in ways that are meaningful for industry, NGOS, government, other organisations and, ultimately, our world. We encourage our students to consider whom they should engage with and how, so they can develop research that is in step with the needs of industry and society.

During the sessions, we were shown many examples of waste valorisation, including the presentation Extracting bioactives from field wastes – an industrial perspective, presented by Alistair House of A&R House (BCL) Ltd. This family firm has farmed land in Somerset for over a century but in recent years has developed innovative solutions for valorising fruit pressing waste. This was just one of the inspiring was examples of the work that is taking place in this area, from research to current industrial activities keeping waste in the food system.

The event provided an insight into current food waste valorisation research and practice. It also underlined the importance of bringing industry and researchers together to understand what is possible. Events such as those held by FoodWasteNet create platforms where food system innovators can convene and collaborate. At IFSTAL we aim to give these innovators the skills to create a shared vocabulary and understanding. In doing so, we can create a food systems community equipped to tackle some of our biggest challenges.

Find out about future FoodWasteNet events HERE.

Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash