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National program launched to give valuable waste materials second life

A national program has been launched to identify valuable products from waste streams, which will then be transformed into useful resources.

The program, TRANSFORM, is an initiative under the fight Food Waste Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) that will develop processes and technology that can cost-effectively transform the waste materials.

University of Queensland (UQ) chemical engineering researcher and TRANSFORM lead, Dr Paul Luckman, said there is more that could be done with organics and food waste.

“This program will also be looking to find the technology gaps and process limitations in transforming that waste.”

The team will work across 13 waste–transforming projects with experienced researchers, including UQ waste conversion expert Associate Professor Bronwyn Laycock, to deliver a tool kit for waste transformation processes.

“We’re already looking at a wide range of projects, from turning food waste into supplements to fuelling sustainable wastewater treatment with food waste,” Luckman said.

“We’re hoping to save 87 gigalitres of water through recovery and reuse, reduce 30 million tonnes in food waste and save at least 44 million tonnes of greenhouse gases emitted over 10 years.”

The TRANSFORM program aims to create 5200 jobs in rural areas and save $600 million in waste produce and waste-handling costs.

The Fight Food Waste CRC has many industry and academic partners participating in food waste transformation projects such as transforming potatoes to products.

Australia is the largest producer of potatoes in the southern hemisphere, yet up to 40 per cent of this produce is rejected because it does not meet market specifications, a statement from UQ explained.

The large volume of waste is currently used for animal feed, where it sells for $10/tonne or it is disposed in landfill at a loss to farmers.

This project will explore options for the transformation of these waste potatoes into higher value products, including into functional foods, bioplastics, edible films, packaging materials, coatings and adhesives.

Researchers also aim to produce raw starch in Australia, reducing the 20,000 tonnes per year that we import due to the absence of a potato starch industry, and they see potato-based prebiotics as a high-end application for this starch.

Research has shown that the less digestible starches like potato starch make superior prebiotics that can help prevent pathogen infections and the development of colon cancer, presenting a premium opportunity to commercial operators in this space.