Micro-organisms found in bacteria and fungi could help turn food waste into high-value products that would boost New Zealand’s economy by $1.6 billion a year and reduce greenhouse gas emissions .
A research project led by University of Canterbury environmental science professor Brett Robinson aims to find ways to transform waste from New Zealand’s food industry – such as waste from milk processing and grape pomace (skins and stems) – in soil amendments and valuable animals. to feed.
He says around 2.2 million tonnes of food processing waste is dumped in New Zealand every year, costing around $270 million a year and increasing our greenhouse gas emissions.
“Our goal is to create a more sustainable circular agricultural economy, where bio-waste can be transformed into useful new products to feed animals or improve our soils.
“There is huge potential to create a win-win situation where we significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions while potentially boosting our economy by more than $1.6 billion a year.”
Professor Robinson leads a team of scientists from the University of Canterbury with experts from the University of Lincoln (led by Dr Racheal Bryant), Plant and Food Research (led by Dr Brendon Malcolm) and Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research (led by Dr David Whitehead and Dr Manpreet Dhami).
The project aims to use microorganisms extracted from plants as agents to turn food processing waste into valuable products.
Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research has a unique and curated collection of over 20,000 strains of bacteria and fungi from plants around the world; the New Zealand International Collection of Microorganisms from Plants (ICMP).
Machine learning methods would be used to select microbes capable of efficiently transforming particular biowaste – such as grape pomace and milk processing waste – into new products such as soil amendments and animal feed.
The team already has four master’s and doctoral students studying how different waste streams – by-products of wine and milk making – could be turned into new products that would benefit dairy farmers and agriculture.
They also plan to recruit several other students from microbiology, artificial intelligence or biochemistry to join the project.
The research team is working with 21 food processing companies that are part of Venture Timaru and want to explore recycling options for their waste.
“It’s largely driven by industry,” says Professor Robinson. “We are developing science in response to industry demands.
“We want to create economic and environmental value from bio-waste by ensuring that the nutrients it contains are harnessed to improve our soils and feed our animals rather than degrading our waterways and contaminating soils,” he said.
The New Zealand milk processing industry produces nearly 800,000 tonnes of solid bio-waste and 190 billion liters of liquid effluent per year. Professor Robinson says bioreactors at milk processing plants could turn this waste into a valuable soil conditioner instead of disposing of it on nearby land.
Professor Robinson estimates that the potential economic benefit of research is over $1.6 billion a year through reduced disposal costs, sales of new products and reduced reliance on imported products, such as phosphate fertilizers and palm kernel expeller (PKE), which is used as animal feed. and costs about $300 million a year.
It could also reduce penalties on greenhouse gas emissions by about $178 million a year.
Reducing contaminants in the environment and food supply would also improve New Zealand’s reputation in overseas markets, he says.
Mātauranga Māori (Maori knowledge) will feed into research that should help prevent contamination of waterways and mahinga kai (food gathering) areas. University of Canterbury Kairangahau Māori Dr Matiu Prebble (Kāti Irakehu, Ngāi Tahu) will liaise with mana whenua, hapū and Māori earth entities.