This article is part of our special report Circular economy in Spanish agri-food sector.
From the creation of new flavours and aromas from waste by-products to maximising water use, Spanish companies are rising to the challenge to deliver on the EU’s circular economy plan in a number of innovative ways. EURACTIV’s partner EFEAGRO reports.
Research investigating how best to maximise the life cycle of products, as part of the European Commission’s circular economy plan, has yielded some promising results.
In Spain, sources from the Federation of Food and Beverage Industries (FIAB) told EFEAGRO that “a lot of investment is being made to take advantage of by-products from the food industry to be used as raw material for other industrial processes.”
This type of innovation includes examples such as obtaining biogas from agri-food waste or industrial wastewater, as well as looking for ways to minimise raw material consumption or improve the management of waste.
From wine to fine dining
Matarromera Wineries has worked for more than a decade on preserving and promoting “orujos”, products that, after pressing for wine, are rich in polyphenols, compounds with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.
Matarromera ‘s head of environment, María Sevillano, says they can then use the leftover products both in cosmetics and as a high-quality ingredient.
“We obtain a powdered extract that we have integrated into our cosmetics and use it as a ‘haute cuisine’ type of ingredient,” since it can be incorporated into dishes to “reduce the salt content and enhance certain flavours,” Sevillano stressed.
In its circular economy strategy, Matarromera is also interested in using the extract as a fungicide in vineyards and reusing pruning branches as fuel in boilers.
Using greener packaging and reducing both energy dependency and carbon footprint are also among the goals to achieve greater sustainability, in line with the new principles of the post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), Sevillano explained.
Calidad Pascual is another Spanish agri-food company that is investigating ways to reuse waste products from their own factories.
Calidad Pascual’s director of the ‘People, Quality and Ethical Management, Responsible and Excellent’ unit, Joseba Arano, explained that the company has reduced the consumption of resources by optimising production and packaging processes, reusing the materials to which a new utility can be given, and separating recyclable waste.
Anything that has been left over then goes to fuel for energy, creating a “totally circular” process, Arano added.
In addition, Calidad Pascual has incorporated environmental criteria in the design of packaging and, since 2010, water consumption in the group’s factories has fallen by almost 30%, according to company sources.
Up to 70% of water resources end up as low-value by-products or must be treated, which represents a high cost.
The EU-funded WaSeaBi project, with the participation of the Basque technological centre AZTI, was launched to increase the exploitation of water resources.
“We look for any part that is wasted within the value chain such as fish fractions in its cleaning process, cooking and desalination waters for cod, or mollusc shells”, said AZTI researcher Bruno Iñarra.
From there, new animal feeds can be obtained for livestock or pets and aromatic compounds such as fish bouillon cubes or flavours for ready-to-eat meals.
The director of Innovation of the Technological Agrarian Institute of Castilla y León (ITACyL), Cristina León, points out that it is necessary to maximise the use of resources as much as possible to increase profitability, but warned that “many novel processes and technologies have a high cost”.
Castilla y León (northwest Spain) has put in place several initiatives to take advantage of chestnut, potato, whey, wheat bran and oat waste.
This Spanish autonomous community last year invested €2.6 million on the agri-food bioeconomy.
“A lot of research needs to be done,” said León, adding that “we have looked for alternatives with bioprocesses to obtain products that we previously made from oil because it was easier and cheaper.”
[Edited by Daniel Eck, Natasha Foote]