Improving energy and resource efficiency of the European food sector through recovery of nutrients from waste

Lead University: The University of Manchester

Professor Adisa Azapagic, Dr Alessandra Fusi

Collaboration: European Commission, Joint Research Centre

Institute for Environment and Sustainability, Sustainability Assessment Unit Serenella Sala, Scientific Officer

Summary

The goal of this collaboration with the European Commission is to investigate different solutions for improving energy and resource efficiency in the European food sector. The focus of the study is waste generated in food supply chains. The following three options for recovery of waste to reduce energy use and increase resource efficiency are investigated:

  • 1. human urine recycling;
  • 2. waste used as animal feed; and
  • 3. waste composting and anaerobic digestion.

The first option considers potential benefits of urine recycling. Although urine accounts for only 1% of household wastewater volume, it contributes 80% of nitrogen and 50% of phosphorus. Therefore, separation of urine from household wastewater is doubly beneficial: i) it would significantly decrease the nutrient load in the environment, reducing the need for tertiary treatment and associated energy use; ii) it represents an opportunity to recover nutrients and conserve water.

The aim of the waste-to-feed scenario is to evaluate energy and other environmental benefits from the use as animal feed of wastes produced in the food processing and retail stages. This solution would reduce the amount of waste and the impacts associated with animal feed production, which would in turn lead to energy and resource savings.

Finally, in the last option, it is assumed that the food waste is either composted to avoid production of mineral fertilisers, or converted into biogas to produce electricity and heat.

Highlights

So far the following highlights can be pointed out:

All three options would reduce energy use and other environmental impacts, with human urine recycling being most effective.

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