UK, London. Researchers at King’s College London published their findings on the potential of converting food waste into protein to solve global food security issues. Fermentation or feeding waste to insects that can be used as animal feed or for human consumption are among the reviewed technologies.
According to a King’s College press release, researchers from the Faculty of Natural, Mathematical & Engineering Sciences and the Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine have reviewed sustainable technologies that convert organic waste, which includes food waste, from agriculture, kitchen and restaurants, and the food industry.
They have found that using just one of these processes to convert agricultural food waste could provide three times the amount of protein the average person needs to feed every person in the world daily. In the paper, published in Green Chemistry, the authors argue that converting waste into protein could solve malnutrition, reduce the pressure on agriculture and food supply chains caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and fight climate change.
“Reducing our waste by creating an economy powered by nature is crucial for fighting climate change. We currently throw away billions of tonnes of perfectly usable organic waste every year, but by using sustainable bio-converters, we can transform this food waste into a valuable protein resource,” said author and PhD student Ellen Piercy.
According to the authors, 1.3 bn tonnes of wasted food and 11.1 bn tonnes of crop residues, such as wheat straw, are produced annually. In contrast, disruption to global food supply chains has significantly increased the projected number of people suffering from malnutrition from 841 million to 909 million people by 2030.
Fermentation is one technology which could make a difference. Arable farming produces 8 billion tonnes of carbohydrate waste every year, but if this waste could be fermented to make mycoprotein, this would produce the same amount of protein that could be had from 5 billion cows, the researchers stated.
Other technologies include employing insects to ingest food waste to grow and then subsequently harvesting them for human and animal consumption. Meanwhile, barriers preventing widespread use must be tackled, such as public perception of waste-to-protein processes and alternative proteins, hygienic quality, and safety standards.
“Our paper is an excellent example of multidisciplinary research, and that this approach is crucial to addressing big scientific and technological challenges on a global scale. Having a large team of people with different expertise and perspectives has helped to kick-start this formidable challenge,” said Professor of Carbohydrate Biochemistry Peter Ellis.