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Valorising waste via decision-support modelling

19 April 2017 - Reduction of waste production can bring substantial environmental and economic benefits, proving that investing in production technologies which allow reduction, reuse and recycling of food waste is really worthwhile. This is the conclusion from research by TiFN PhD fellow Aleksander Banasik.

Food waste is a major problem in today’s food industry. To remain competitive, partners, throughout the supply-chain, must adopt new technologies that reduce or valorise food waste. Their challenge is to maintain or increase economic output while simultaneously reducing the environmental impact of their production processes.

The many sides of sustainability
Designing such ‘eco-efficient’ supply-chains requires complex decision-support models that can deal with all aspects of sustainability while taking into account the characteristics of products and their supply chains. Banasik was the first to use the principle of multi-objective optimisation to quantify trade-offs between conflicting objectives, such as total profit (economic performance) and cumulative exergy losses (environmental impact). He proposed decision-support models for optimising the logistics of food-supply chains, and tested them in bread and mushroom supply chains.

The PhD fellow showed that reducing waste production can bring substantial environmental and economic benefits. “A finding that should encourage the food industry to invest in production technologies that allow the reduction, reuse and recycling of food waste”, he says.

“In the case of mushrooms, for example, the price of certain growth-medium ingredients is expected to increase substantially in the forthcoming years”, he illustrates. “Some of my colleagues and our industry partners came up with a technological innovation that allows for recycling part of the substrate-waste stream and using it as raw materials for production. This results in cost savings and reduces the environmental impact associated with waste disposal.”

Closing loops
Using the decision-support model, Banasik demonstrated that, at the chain level, great benefits can be obtained by introducing this technology into current production methods. “The findings also showed that it is actually possible to ‘close loops’ in food-supply chains, and that it pays off to apply uncertainties – such as demand patterns and prices of raw materials – in optimisation models.”

TiFN’s industry partners received the outcomes with enthusiasm; several follow-up studies have begun in both the bread and mushroom chains.