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3 examples of how innovations in sustainability can be profitable

Ivan Lim

March 26, 2021

Image by Akil Mazumder on Pexels

Unsustainable consumption may well be the mother of all environmental issues - the way we consume products and services today impact the environment directly or indirectly through product life cycles. Continuing with the current increasing trend of consumption is not an option, given our planet’s limited resources. With the projected rate of global population increasing, something has to give. 

The way forward is to create a circular economy, where we use our resources in the most effective and sustainable manner, decouple growth from the exhaustion of finite resources and ensure that our resources stay in the loop for as long as possible by recycling and upcycling. Rather than let waste accumulate in landfills, we need to look towards repurposing our waste to maximise its use potential. 


Dried black soldier fly larvae
Photo by EnviroFlight
Insect proteins

The global growing demand for proteins and lipids cannot be met by the intensive use of agricultural land available at present, so some have sought to meet this demand through the use of insect proteins. Insects are proven to be highly efficient feed converters, produce less greenhouse gases than common livestock, need less water, and have significantly lower risk of zoonotic diseases. These reasons make insect farming a more viable and sustainable model to meet the increasing demand for proteins and lipids. 

Specifically, the black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) has shown to be reared easily in mass cultures on food waste and has a relatively short life cycle (6 weeks) - meaning a high turnover of larvae - the desired end product - at a low cost. The larvae are then collected and freeze dried to be used as alternative proteins for agricultural or aqua feed and fertiliser. Some companies that have successfully established black soldier fly farms as commercially viable businesses include Enterra Feed Corporation (Canada), AgriProtein (South Africa), BioflyTech (Spain), InnovaFeed (France) and Insectta (Singapore). 

These farms collect food waste like spent okara (soy bean pulp) or brewery grain waste to feed to their black soldier fly larvae, and resources that would otherwise be discarded, are put to use in insect farming to convert the nutrients in the waste into usable feed for livestock like chicken or fish. The black soldier flies may also be farmed for chitosan (which is conventionally sourced from shrimp and crabs) for use in the cosmetic, pharmaceutical, agrotech and food packaging industries. 

Photo by CRUST
Converting unsold bread to beer

Another interesting idea utilising food waste is that of creating craft beer using leftover bread and fruits. Companies like Crust (Singapore) and Toast (USA) have championed eco-sustainability by upcycling surplus bread stock. In doing so, bread is diverted from landfills where it would otherwise decompose, releasing methane gas into the atmosphere. The bread is used as an alternative for grains in the fermentation process to create a bread-based craft beer and the fruit peels are then infused as flavouring. This idea uses industrial quantities of bread that would be wasted to feed the growing trend of craft beer, making it a clever and commercially viable way of food waste upcycling. 

Beyond bread, companies like Crust are also looking at expanding into the use of rice and other food waste to be repurposed in their fermentation process. This model could be further explored to create non-alcoholic beverages as well.


Sustainability: Don't waste seafood waste : Nature News & Comment
Photo by Bert Folsom on Alamy
Bioplastics from crustacean waste

Last but not least is the production of bioplastics from crustacean waste. The current use of fossil fuel-based plastics, particularly single-use plastics, has proven to be unsustainable because these single-use plastics cannot be recycled and take hundreds of years to degrade in a landfill. Increasingly, these single-use plastics are finding their way into our ecosystems, contaminating our soil and waters with microplastics. 

This problem with single-use plastics has led researchers and companies to develop biodegradable bioplastics using the extraction of chitin from cleaned, crushed crustacean shells to create a pliable biomaterial. With 6-8 million tonnes of crab, shrimp and lobster shells being generated as food waste annually by the food industry, this waste that would otherwise head to landfills can now be repurposed for potential applications in the food packaging industry and beyond, mitigating both problems of food waste and plastic pollution at the same time.

Conclusion

Sustainability challenges can also be opportunities for businesses to reinvent products and services that are commercially successful. There is value to be captured by the people that can create green solutions to solve big environmental problems. In order to meet our increasing global demand, sustainability has to play a major role for all businesses moving forward, and we need to think about how to capture the abundant value in sustainability. 







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