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Matchmaking Waste Side Streams: the answer to a zero-waste circular economy?

Linda Grieder, CEO of Rethink Resource, reveals how the Digital Waste Streams project is transforming side streams from wasteful to tasteful with their matchmaking platform.

23 Jul 2019

Hi Linda! Can you tell us about the Digital Waste Streams project you are working on?

Absolutely. The project recognises that many companies worldwide produce secondary materials, such as waste or side-streams, as a result of the manufacturing process. These waste side streams can be reused as a valuable material, rather than being disposed of. The project is creating a database to collect these side streams which helps ‘match-make’ them between buyers and sellers. For example, if a buyer requires a particular property from a fruit that a seller has to offer, like the fruit colour, then the seller can trade this side stream rather than it going to waste. Overall, this project aims to have a positive impact on the economic and environmental circular economy by reducing side stream waste.

How innovative. What are some of the specific side streams that you are aiming to be traded in the future?

There are many plant and fruit-based side streams that can be traded. A good example is raspberry seeds: as many jams and marmalades are seedless, unless the seeds can be used elsewhere, they are simply discarded as waste. Other side streams include, for example, dough from bakery products and chocolate husks from cocoa beans. There are several thousand tonnes of side streams wasted each year highlighting the importance of preventing such waste.

Wow, who knew that raspberry seeds and cocoa beans could be re-used?! And what have you achieved so far with this project and what is the end goal?

So far, we have identified around 50 different side streams from the partners within the project consortium and our goal is to scale this to several hundred, or even thousand in the future! The opportunities for waste side streams are almost endless. An absolutely essential part of this project is that we’ve now collected samples of these side streams for analysis to help understand what these streams can be used for and what quantities are required. Once they have been evaluated and profiled the matchmaking process can begin! Our goal here is for our matchmaking database to be regularly used by many different industrial partners.

Impressive. And what is Rethink Resource’s specific role in this project?

Our role is to develop the database that enables the matchmaking process between buyers and sellers. We provide knowledge and expertise based on our own cross-industrial trading tool platform. We also try to identify which data points are needed before side streams can be profiled. Here the exact ingredient composition of the side stream is needed, so buyers understand the quality and nature of the side stream before they purchase it from the seller.  After assessing the suitability of the side stream, it can be traded between buyers and sellers.

Can you describe some of challenges that have occurred so far and how you are overcoming them?

The biggest challenge is that companies often do not recognise their side streams as valuable resources in the first place. For example, a milk producer may not realise that their whey side stream is a valuable resource that can be put to an alternative use. Once they are aware of this, their whey can be sold to a company in need of this resource. Therefore, this recognition is vital for the matchmaking process to occur. To overcome this challenge, we communicate with buyers and sellers to help them understand the value of their side streams so they can then connect with one another.

How does this project contribute to EIT Food’s objective to enhance the sustainability of our food system?

We are putting side streams to alternative use to help reduce waste and improve resource efficiency. Being part of the EIT Food community enables us to connect with partners who can use our platform and who share our passion for sustainability. So, we are able to reach a valuable network that we would otherwise not have access to.

We all know food waste is a huge issue. Whose responsibility is it to tackle the food waste problem?

I think everyone needs to take responsibility for food waste. In the real world achieving zero-waste is challenging, but if industries keep their side streams low and consumers minimise food waste then we can all contribute to reducing the size of this huge issue. The trick is to not view waste as waste in the first place!

Finally, how can recognising side streams as a valuable resource help tackle the food waste crisis?

I think that raising awareness of the value of side streams is the first and most crucial step in tackling the food waste crisis. Increasing awareness of how side streams can be alternatively used can then encourage companies to re-use side streams rather than disposing of them. Reducing such waste is imperative to achieve the wider sustainability goal of a zero-waste circular economy.

About the author: Laura Elphick is a Communications and Events Assistant at EIT Food. She holds a First-Class Bachelor’s Degree in Consumer Behaviour and Marketing and is passionate about promoting a sustainable food environment to consumers.

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