Municipal solid waste and in particular organic waste are globally generated in large quantities from various sectors including different stages of the food supply chain from the farm to the folk. Excessive generation of organic waste in the food supply chain waste could lead to the supply of an important industrial feedstock. Hold on!!…. Let me clarify this before the media makes insinuations that more waste is necessary. NO! This is not an excuse to overconsume. Yes, we have an existing problem but we can turn this problem into an opportunity and in this case, the exploitation of organic waste into biobased marketable products.
Regulations and directives have been put in place in Europe to facilitate the transition from a linear to circular economy. The ambitious Circular economy package launched in 2015 and the Bioeconomy strategy of 2012 complimented by the new 2018 updated version are such examples that show Europe’s willingness and commitment to reform, as far as waste management is concerned. A prevailing priority in the EU is to stimulate the transition towards a circular economy that fosters the promotion of sustainable and resource-efficient policies for long-term socio-economic and environmental benefits. Within this framework, the concept and methodology of circular economy and bio-economy have been introduced as system models to overcome the dominant economic development model “take, make and dispose” and administer environmental sustainability.
The circular economy has been applied to transform the value chain from linear to closed-loop and enhance the efficiency of resource utilization in order to counterbalance the economic, environmental and societal burdens caused the current linear utilization of resources. On the other hand, the bio-economy relies on the conversion of renewable carbon reserve from agricultural or forestry biomass and organic wastes into diversified end-products and materials, including food, feed, bio-based chemicals, biopolymers, fuels and bioenergy.
Through this concept our heavy reliance on fossil fuels will be a thing of the past as novel technologies are being developed to optimize exploitation of organic waste and by product streams via sustainable approaches.
Biorefinery: A facility (or network of facilities) that integrates biomass conversion processes and equipment to produce biofuels, power, and chemicals. The concept is analogous to an oil refinery, which produces multiple fuels and other products from crude oil. The establishment of integrated biorefineries will lead to the development of innovative bio-based industries, open new market opportunities for bio-based products, achieve efficient resource utilisation and even create employment.
An Integrated and holistic approach is therefore, needed for organic waste utilization as industrial feedstocks, that will boost the transition towards the circular economy era.
Recently, new technologies have been introduced to produce value-added products and platform chemicals from agricultural residues and food processing side streams. The establishment of circular economy would expand and diversify the market outlets of these bio-based products.
Although the circular economy and bioeconomy concepts and applications are still in their infancy from a global perspective, they are growing in prominence with each passing year.
Industries, governments, and even consumers are increasingly recognizing the inherent value in circular principles, and they’re embracing practices that can help them achieve the “circular advantage by converting waste into wealth – or trash into cash. These concepts of course come with their challenges, but those very obstacles can stir innovation in companies and industries within the food supply chain or any other sector. For example, companies that formerly outsourced waste management can now generate income from their own waste. The economic argument for zero waste is easy, but for companies to even begin to achieve that
goal, they must work closely both internally and with external partners. A lot of change comes from business innovation, and that will happen from collaboration between firms (industrial eco-parks), cities and government.
The core principles of the circular economy are complementary to the bio-economy and should facilitate the recycling and re-use of material directed towards the establishment of integrated sustainable approaches elaborating holistic resource utilization. A shift towards a circular bio-economy is also expected to set a strong perspective on renewed competitiveness, positive economic development and job creation by organizational, social and technological innovation. Regulations and policies should be developed to promote environmentally sound product design and motivate manufacturers to formulate products with reduced environmental impacts.
Likewise, the fruitful collaboration of engineers, academics including those in the ReTraCE network, lawyers, politicians, economists and policy makers constitutes a key element to establish synergies between research and stakeholders towards the restructuring of the future economy. For instance, in the Campania region of Italy through the ReTraCE project a lot of activity is on-going working with different case studies from wineries, dairy, meat and olive oil supply chains. Environmental assessments of the entire processes within the selected case studies will be performed, providing a quantitative understanding of the plant processes. The idea of this research is to understand to what extent the recovery of materials and energy from the organic waste fraction of these production systems is environmentally sound and if there are steps and/or components that require further attention to influence a change in the system or policy. Furthermore, the application of the LCA method will provide a complementary perspective to Emergy Accounting, by highlighting the direct and indirect contribution in terms of environmental services and natural capital to the process operations of these selected case studies. Merging together the two methodologies will provide us with a comprehensive and holistic basis to evaluate the environmental performance of the biorefinery systems under study for policy recommendation and industrial advice.
Currently, we are witnessing interesting circular opportunities to exploit the organic waste fraction on the existing case studies in the winery, dairy and olive oil sector provided for by the ambitious ReTraCE project through the guidance of the principal investigator Prof Sergio Ulgiati…..watch the space for conference papers and publications in the near future!!
Organic waste is the new feedstock material!!
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