Waste is a design flaw
Food waste has become a much debated and widely recognised issue that has led consumers to pay more attention to their consumption habits. Increasing attention is put to wasted food materials and associated economic and nutritional losses. There is a need for this, as food waste is an unnecessary environmental burden on society as a whole.
Food losses occur at all levels of the food system. At each stage of production, inefficiency can lead to production losses and increase the amount of unnecessary waste. In developed countries, raw material use and process efficiencies have largely been optimised, and waste has been determinedly reduced. In many developing countries on the other hand, waste remains a major problem in production and supply chains due to poor conditions and inadequate infrastructure.
Food production inevitably generates also non-edible, mainly organic by-products. This part of food production often receives less attention in public debate, but its impact is significant when looking at the food system as a whole. By-products are produced alongside the main products, and in an ideal situation can be used to create value-added products based on renewable raw materials. In a circular economy, the food chain and non-food chain are inextricably linked. In Finland, the Honkajoki Group plays an important role as a link connecting these two sectors, and as a pioneer in the productization and commercialisation of by-products.
Circular economy is an important enabler in decoupling economic growth from increasing consumption of finite materials. Existing value networks are mainly based on the use of virgin raw materials and challenging them is not an easy task. In order to move towards a circular economy, the smaller environmental footprint of secondary raw materials should have commercial value. In addition, the separate collection of by-products and recycling processes should work smoothly, and the market for circulated raw materials should be profitable. As a special feature of food production chain in Finland, we gain added value from the very low use of pesticides and drugs, and for example from broilers raised entirely without the use of antibiotics. This is also reflected in our product quality.
At Honkajoki, we invest in the research and development of existing and potential new by-products and their processing opportunities in order to exploit them to their full potential. The aim is not only to replace existing raw materials, but also to explore new product opportunities, possibly in entirely new industries. The EU Waste Framework Directive serves as a useful guideline in moving towards a circular economy. It emphasises the use of recycled materials in line with a European waste hierarchy, which establishes the most preferred options for managing waste in order to protect human health, the environment, and natural resources. The most preferred option almost always provides also the greatest added value.
Productizing side streams is an environmentally friendly business. At Honkajoki, the animal by-product rendering sequesters multiple times more greenhouse gases than it generates. Compared to alternative protein raw materials, the carbon footprint of our recycled nutrients is very small, and our aim is to make it negative in the future. The industrial symbiosis in the Kirkkokallio region also brings its own added value to Honkajoki. Companies operating in different sectors in the area collaborate closely in recycling by-products and, for example, surplus heat, which enables operations that use minimal resources and generate minimal waste. This “eco-park” operating model has aroused international interest and is part of the Honkajoki Concept. In the future it will provide comprehensive solutions for the processing and commercialisation of animal by-products for the international market.
Mika Tuomola, PhD
Director, Research and Development