food products wastage

Food Waste is a Major Problem Throughout the World

Food waste is a very hot topic dominating the food and beverage industry. In recent years, it’s also become a key issue that has climbed up the public and political agenda throughout the world.

The problem is that approximately one-third of food produced globally for human consumption, is lost or wasted, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). That’s around 1.3 billion tonnes per year discarded.

In fact, if food waste were a country, it would be the third highest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, behind China and the United States.

Food waste is clearly a huge problem. Not only for the economy, but also for food security and the environment too. It also has a huge impact on the bottom line for organisations, including the food and beverage sector.

This blog article provides an overview of food waste and the different forms of it, specifically focusing on waste accumulated in processing. It also looks at how pipeline product recovery systems (‘Pigging’) can help food and beverage manufacturers minimise waste in their operations.

The Dark Side of Food Waste

To put things into perspective, while we continue to throw away perfectly good food, 800 million people go to bed hungry every night. That’s around 1 in 9 people facing malnourishment. Worse still, those 1 in 9 people could be adequately fed on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the US, UK and the rest of the world each year.

According to the United Nations, the world population is expected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050. This growth in population will increase the demand for energy, water and food resources which are already under pressure. So, if we’re unable to feed our current population, how can we possibly feed everyone in thirty years’ time?

It’s estimated that to achieve this, global food production will need to increase majorly to around 60 per cent by 2050.

UK Food Manufacturers Waste Considerable Amounts of Food

The food manufacturing industry is one of the main culprits of food waste.  Every year, UK food manufacturers throw away roughly 1 million tonnes of food. That’s equivalent to £1.2 billion per year. What’s worse, most of this waste is completely avoidable.

Food waste can seriously hurt an organisation’s bottom line. As well as the direct waste, there are other sources of waste to consider including the costs of ingredients, energy, labour, water, storage and transport, which all go into making the product. When all these costs are combined, they can add up to between 5 and 20 times more than the cost of disposal alone.

One of the most well-known methods of boosting profits in food manufacturing is to reduce waste. Therefore, it’s quite clear why organisations across the food sector are committed to waste reduction targets and are looking at ways they can better manage their waste with smarter, more efficient processing and green technologies such as ‘pigging’.

The Environmental Impact of Food Waste

As well as being extremely costly for manufacturers, food waste has major environmental implications.

Food production requires a significant amount of valuable resources. It relies on large amounts of land, water, energy, human resources, time and money in order to be produced, packaged, stored, and transported. When the product is sold, it is then transported by the customer and stored at their home. Therefore, wasting food wastes an unbelievable amount of valuable resources.stop wasting food sign

At the same time, the food production process as well as distribution, transportation and the decomposition of food waste, let off greenhouse gases contributing to climate change and the rising temperature of the planet.

In most cases, food waste ends up in landfill where, rather than decomposing as many people think, it rots and releases methane. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, which is around 25 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

The Different Forms of Food Waste

Food waste takes many forms. A large proportion of food waste can be attributed to plate waste that customers pay for but don’t eat. However, this blog article specifically focuses on waste accumulated in food production.

In food manufacturing, it’s estimated that over 32% of all food waste is because of production issues, such as contamination, mislabelling, human error, plus others.

With safety being a key issue for food manufacturers, it means any product suspected of being contaminated is instantly removed from production. After all, human safety takes priority over anything else. This discarded product can add up to large amounts of waste and can be extremely costly for manufacturers.

Mislabelling Major Occurrence in Food Manufacture

Food dropped on the floor is also discarded, as it cannot be reworked into processing. Mislabelling is also a major occurrence in food manufacture that contributes to wastage. In 2017, there were 438 recalls in the food industry and the leading causes of these recalls were due to the products being mislabelled and failing to declare certain ingredients.

These ingredients could be of the product or could be a result of cross-contamination whereby residue remains in the pipeline from a prior production batch. This is particularly important if the ingredients were potentially allergenic.

Mislabelled products can add up to large amounts of waste, even more so if they make it to the customer. Recalling the mislabelled products can be a costly exercise for manufacturers.

The only positive outcome is if manufacturers can salvage the mislabelled product and find a way to rework it into manufacturing such as using it for animal feed. If this is not possible, then the product will need to be disposed of and then it becomes waste.

Changeovers Also Contribute to Wastage

With more trends than ever before, including ‘free from’, vegan food choices, high protein, premium, low-sugar, plus other mass customised products, the need for more frequent changeovers has increased.

In many cases, manufacturers will use a single production line, rather than using multiple lines to process the wide selection of products they offer. Although more efficient, running multiple product formulations on the same production line is not without its challenges.

The main challenge is that useable product is often wasted in the changeover process. This is due to manufacturers needing to clean the line vigorously before the next product can be processed, to remove traces of product, flavourings, water, and other possible contaminants remaining in the product line. This results in significant product loss. It also accounts for high wastage costs, large amounts of cleaning chemicals and less productive human-resource hours.

Solutions Such as Pigging That Can Help to Reduce Waste

With landfill becoming an increasingly expensive option, it’s quite clear why many food and beverage manufacturers have embedded waste hierarchy into the day-to-day business of their operations.

As well as educating staff, making technical improvements to processes and improving packaging, many food manufacturers are implementing hygienic pigging systems to reclaim product from process pipelines. This product would otherwise be sent to waste landfill

Pigging uses a special projectile (the ‘pipeline pig’) to recover the residual product that’s remaining in pipelines during changeovers.

Because pigging recovers so much product (up to 99.5%), there’s less product to send to waste. At the same time, cleaning and changeover processes also use less cleaning fluids, are less time consuming, reduce wastewater, save money, and rely on fewer resources. In this way, the benefits of pigging systems for food companies are significant.

As an example, HPS installed a pigging system for a food manufacturer that enables them to recover 200 kgs of good product that would otherwise be wasted or become effluent.

Pigging Has a Positive Impact on the Environment

Typically, during the changeover process, food manufacturers may use large volumes of water and cleaning chemicals to prepare the production line for the next product. This results in useable product being wasted and creates large amounts of effluent to treat.

Because pigging cleans the pipeline and removes most of the product, there’s no requirement for lengthy flush outs. In this way, pigging reduces water use considerably, improves production efficiency and minimises the amount of effluent produced. Therefore, the environmental benefits of pigging are significant.

Pigging also reduces the chances of product contamination and cross-contamination, as it cleans the line so effectively and efficiently. This, in turn, reduces wastage and improves safety.

Find Out More

Process Liquids? To find out more about reducing product waste in your manufacturing operations, talk to HPS, the process system design experts.

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