The first-ever cooperative research centre for food waste reduction, the Fight Food Waste CRC, lays out its strategy to reduce product losses across the supply chain.
Australia’s food price inflation has generally been below the OECD average over the past 20 years.
The nation averaged 3.1 per cent a year compared with 4.4 per cent a year for the whole OECD, according to the Federal Government’s 2012-13 Australian food statistics.
Credit Suisse’s recent Global Wealth Report also shows Australia is the richest country in the world, with wealth per adult just ahead of Switzerland. It showed Australia also has the highest wealth by median, meaning the nation has a low level of inequality compared to other nations.
The nation’s purchasing power has meant the low value we place on food creates a barrier to behavioural change, according to Dr Steven Lapidge, Chief Executive Officer of the Fight Food Waste CRC, who is keen to see Australians stop wasting food.
Steven says that the higher cost of food in European nations has meant behavioural change to reduce food waste has been more readily achievable.
“Food in Australia is really cheap as a percentage of income. Because of that many have lost all respect for food and what it takes to produce,” he says.
The fact that food waste costs an estimated $20 billion to the economy each year has led to the development of a new cooperative research centre to combat the issue – the Fight Food Waste CRC.
When the Federal Government launched the National Food Waste Strategy in 2018, it reiterated its election commitment to halve the nation’s food waste by 2030. Food Innovation Australia Limited was appointed as an independent governance body to support the implementation of the target and strategies within it. Months later, the Fight Food Waste CRC was established and granted $30 million over 10 years in funding, taking its overall budget to $121 million, to reduce food waste throughout the supply chain, transform unavoidable waste into high-value products and engage with industry and consumers to deliver behaviour change.
The CRC’s activities will comprise three programs: reducing supply chain losses, transforming waste resources, and education and behavioural change. Steven says that since the CRC launched on 1 July, the first few months have involved finalising the head agreement with the Federal Government and agreements with the 57 participants, which include major food supply chain companies such as Woolworths and horticulture producer FAVCO, as well as Swisse Wellness and Sustainability Victoria. More participants will be able to come on board in the future.
Steven says the process of establishing the CRC has been a five-year journey from when the idea was first floated.
“Now that our agreements are in, we’re starting to work on the initial research portfolio,” he says.
He says one of the biggest areas of potential reform is to transform surplus horticulture into “nutraceuticals” to create higher value uses. Instead of fruit and vegetables that don’t meet supermarket specifications going to low value uses such as animal feed, Steven says surplus horticulture could support the development of an Australian nutraceutical ingredient industry.
“Currently all nutraceutical ingredients and most food ingredients we use are imported from overseas. We could actually create whole new industry around that in Australia,” he says.
“One of the fastest growing areas in the food industry is this merging of food, health and medicine. It’s happened in Asian countries for many years, as well as Europe.”
He says that companies such as Swisse currently use a high-grade grape seed extract imported from France rather than utilising local ingredients, as there are no players in Australia in this space.
The projects are just the tip of the iceberg, with new potential projects ranging from new food products to bioenergy, nutrients for the aquaculture industry and a range of other areas.
He says that RMIT University and the University of Queensland will support the mapping of resource flows through supply chains in addition to companies such as Empauer – a lifecycle assessment company.
To reduce supply chain food waste, Steven says the CRC is working with areas such as the seafood industry to ascertain the quantity and quality of product losses.
“Sometimes developing new foods that may not require the initial capital outlay can be slightly less value but actually more profitable, so the kind of work that goes to each decision is [based on] how do we maximise profitability for our industry partners?”
He says the CRC will look at multiple uses for all waste materials to determine the best options.
“If you’ve got a horticultural waste stream, you might look to do a couple of extractions for a prebiotic, followed by turning the residual waste stream into a plastic, or if there’s any waste after that, into bioenergy.”
According to Steven, one of the technology gaps is processing the feedstock onsite. In this vein, he says that lessons can be learnt from European factories that now deal with onsite waste streams.
He adds that mobile freeze drying and dewatering technologies are food waste processing options that are currently lacking in Australia, although this is starting to change.
To inspire behavioural change, an industry engagement program will develop short courses so businesses can identify supply chain gaps. A household behaviour change program will also take place to reduce food waste, which already involves Victoria, NSW and South Australia.
Over time, an online decision support tool will also be developed that will capture information on multiple waste streams, their location, volumes, seasonality and potential uses, as well as the location of potential manufacturing facilities, to help deliver maximum profitability from food waste. As Steve points out “we only manage what we value”.
“I hope that will be one of our key legacy items. It’s really building the infrastructure and the know-how to extract financial benefits from traditional waste streams and to develop the circular bioeconomy in Australia,” Steven says.