According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), approximately one third of all food produced in the world for human consumption is either wasted or lost every year. Tackling this issue is a crucial part of the global transition to a healthier and happier planet. As such, new ideas to reduce food loss during production, throughout the supply chain and at both the retail and household level are being introduced every day.

Food waste is nothing new new but has become increasingly prevalent in recent years. It’s now being seen as a contributor to the fact that more that 3.1 billion people around the world are affected by hunger and/or lack access to a healthy diet, according to FAO. With greater recognition, however, comes the drive to actively take a stance against the recent deterioration in global food security and nutrition. Before looking at a novel solution to this worldwide situation, though, let’s examine the here and now. Food waste can come in many forms, such as less-than-optimal fresh produce that’s removed from the supply chain during sorting, food that’s at or beyond its “best-before” date and is discarded by retailers and consumers, or simply the large quantities of totally edible food that’s left over and discarded from household kitchens and eating establishments. 

Food loss is described as what happens between post-harvest and up to  but not including  the retail level, whereas food waste takes place at the retail, food service and consumer level. Globally, for instance, some 14 percent of food produced is lost between harvest and retail, whereas an estimated 17 percent of total global food production is wasted (11 percent in households, 5 percent in the food service and 2 percent in retail). Perhaps not surprisingly, fruits and vegetables comprise almost a quarter of so-called lost food in the world as they bruise and damage easily. In a time of rising global hunger and surging cost of living prices, prompt action is required!

Reducing food waste offers a number of benefits beyond simply feeding the world’s people: it helps with supply chain security, makes the agricultural industry more sustainable and contributes to a better climate. Food loss and waste contributes up to 10 percent of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions! 

Positive action

With the environment very much in mind, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is putting plans in place to halve per-capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses during production and throughout the supply chain (including post-harvest losses). Goal 12, in particular, is about ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns, which is key to ensuring the livelihoods of current and future generations. Achieving this target would accelerate the pace of food loss reduction and have significant implications for the fight against climate change.

Food is never waste

In a groundbreaking initiative that processes orange peels and addresses this need for fundamental change, GEA has been working with Dutch manufacturer PeelPioneers to find new uses for inedible, often-discarded foodstuffs. PeelPioneers extracts dietary fibers, antioxidants and oil from orange peels — obtained from restaurants and supermarkets — to develop novel applications for this so-called waste: an ingredient in foodstuffs, cosmetics and cleaning products. The “pulp” that is left over is used as livestock feed, so every bit of the peel is 100 percent utilized.

The idea to “monetize” citrus peels first came up during a chemistry course in York, UK, in 2016. Twelve months later, the company started running some experiments in a shed and, just 4 years after that, 10 million kilos of peel will be processed per annum. Initially as a supplier and now also as a “PeelPartner,” GEA has been involved since the very beginning.

Sytze van Stempvoort, cofounder of PeelPioneers, explains that the idea of recycling citrus peels gained momentum as soon as it was suggested. “Once your curiosity is piqued, and you see so much potential, you want to act as fast as possible. So, we started by developing the necessary technology to get things going very quickly.”

Having recognized GEA’s expertise in the food processing industry, PeelPioneers soon got in touch. Van Stempvoort explains: “We rented a warehouse in the Amsterdam port area in 2017 and conducted thousands of experiments with a hired GEA centrifuge to find the best method to extract the essential oils from the peels. This then allowed us to take the next steps very quickly.”

From orange bins to back on the shelves

The Process Technology Center in Parma (Italy) enables customers to run product specification and pilot tests on a wide range of equipment.
The Process Technology Center in Parma (Italy) enables customers to run product specification and pilot tests on a wide range of equipment.

This was the foundation of a long-term and much valued partnership between the two companies. “At one point, we were struggling to understand how to extract more valuable components from the peels, which meant we had to invest in further R&D and technology,” van Stempvoort says. “GEA was a great partner; they really helped us with expertise and provided the right equipment to support our processes. A real bonus was being able to run valuable tests in the GEA test centre in Parma; (Italy) and in Oelde (Germany). We were able to trial different systems, setups and machinery very early on in the process with minimum risk and cost, which was incredibly beneficial.”

The test center in Oelde (Germany) offers a unique portfolio of services for centrifuges, including machine selection and real-world trials.
The test center in Oelde (Germany) offers a unique portfolio of services for centrifuges, including machine selection and real-world trials.

GEA technology: essential part of the process

Van Stempvoort believes that GEA technology plays an essential role in good quality: “It’s very important that end products such as sauces, drinks, meat replacements and bakery products have consistent attributes, particularly when working with a functional fiber. Otherwise, you struggle with unwanted lumps. Our Finix citrus fiber is not being used in everyday waste products, so the technology needs to be of the very highest standard.”

VARIVENT® Hygienic seat valves range
VARIVENT® Hygienic seat valves range

GEA also offers a comprehensive portfolio of decanters and valves, much of which was developed based on the technologies used to extract dietary fiber for use as a binding agent, thickener and emulsifier

Looking to the future, van Stempvoort explains that PeelPioneers built a new factory in Den Bosch in 2021 where the company processes 30 million kilos of peels a year. “GEA helped us with the tendering procedure to construct this factory and has now also become a partner. This means that they will accompany us on our journey during the next few years and provide support when we want to open more branches. This involvement is extremely important for us to continue the growth we are aiming to achieve.”

Closing the circle

Van Stempvoort believes that for a partnership to be successful, everyone involved has to have shared values. For example, he says: “Both GEA and PeelPioneers strongly believe that we need to leave a better world for future generations and are doing our best to act accordingly. Joined-up thinking like this has proved to be particularly important in the past, such as during equipment selection and understanding our desired outcomes and will continue to be essential as we move forward.”

The economy is rapidly becoming more circular and van Stempvoort sees an important role for GEA in this “golden future” of waste processing: “We want to look at how we can extract vitamin C from these peels to be used in foodstuffs. We really need GEA to help with the processing technology to be able to handle larger volumes.” Plus, van Stempvoort is already looking beyond just expanding: “The best thing would be for us to become a global inspiration for the circular economy. That is, after all, what we need for a better world.”