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Companies Look to Innovate Value-Added Products from Food and Other Organics Waste

David McNew/Getty Images cannabis
The push to keep discarded food and other organics from landfills is leading to some creative new projects.

With the push to divert food waste and other organics from landfill, manufacturers, nonprofits and governments are looking to turn would-be garbage into high-value products. Innovations range from the creation of biofuel fertilizers to processing nutritious, cheap fish feed.

And as more states legalize cannabis, there’s a whole new market about to take off for composters, project some industry experts.

Cannabis growers will be demanding customers, but will pay well for a trusted compost product. There is high reward when they get their process right and a high penalty when they get it wrong, says Dave Girard of Eugene, Ore.-based Petersen Corp., manufacturers of grinders and screening and separation equipment.

“A 10 percent increase in production can be hundreds of dollars per plant. But if they lose a crop they could be out of business,” Girard says.

Products will have to be certified free of contaminants. And cannabis growers may expect finer particle products than used in most agriculture applications.

Composters can add value by making premium soil blends. Many growers will have unique needs. Some may expect producers to make a proprietary mix developed by the customer.

Composters could sell directly to cannabis growers; to middlemen who produce soil; or to “grow” stores that cater to the cannabis industry.

This could be steady business for entrepreneurs who figure out how to produce a quality blend, says Girard.

“A crop’s wholesale value can be as high as a million dollars on a one- to two-acre site,” he adds. “And soil is typically replaced yearly if it is planted in pots or indoors.”

South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D., is finding use for canola and Camelina seeds grown in that state. Researchers harvest the seeds, extract oil, then get protein-filled meal that can be used as fish feed.

Currently fish feeds use fish meal as a protein source. But using oil seed meal would be 20 percent to 30 percent cheaper, says Kasiviswanathan Muthukumarappan of the department of agriculture and biosystems engineering, South Dakota State University.

“We are using local crops while trying to reduce fish meal in feed while also providing economic opportunities for farmers,” Muthukumarappan says. “And we are finding more opportunities for this meal, so if we harvest more oil seeds, which can be grown on a rotational basis, we find improved value.”

Global company CF Holdings is cashing in on coffee pulp, a waste that many coffee-producing countries lack the wastewater management infrastructure to manage. Wet mills overseas supply the company with the pulp through a patented collection process. It is turned into coffee flour for base in other food products.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a lab dedicated to developing technologies to make the most of otherwise wasted food.

The USDA Agriculture Research lab has supported projects to, for instance, turn food byproducts or aesthetically undesirable produce into valued commodities while helping put income in farmers’ pockets, says Elise Golan, director for sustainable development, office of the chief economist, USDA.

“When we think about food lost, the first thing is how to stop it before it happens, then to recover it … preventing it is where we have ultimate resource efficiency. [USDA’s] mandate is to be sure farmers get value from everything they harvest, to create economic opportunities in rural communities, and to expand the supply of wholesome foods,” Golan says.

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