When it comes to plant food waste there is still a lot of work to do…

More food waste is generated by industrialised nations than by developed countries and while that poses a certain amount of challenges, it also highlights the opportunities that have emerged as well.

This is according to Dr. Nigel Brunton, UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science, who presented the first in a series of seminars on Wednesday, September 25 – ‘Harnessing Bioactives from plant food waste and underutilised resources’ – as part of a joint programme between AgriLand and the university’s School of Agriculture and Food Science.

The ‘UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science Research Seminar Series 2019/2020’ was launched on September 19 last by Minister of State Andrew Doyle at the National Ploughing Championships.

The series will consist of 12 lunchtime seminars that will be delivered by both UCD staff and external presenters. Topics that will be covered over the coming months include: agroforestry; rural Ireland; and grassland management.

Becoming more aware

Meanwhile, Brunton, who spoke to AgriLand, pointed to consumerism and the level of awareness that is there in relation to food waste.

I think consumers have a certain amount of awareness of the level of waste food they are generating at a domestic level.

He continued: “But the level of awareness they would have in terms of the food that is wasted at industrial level is very limited.

“Lobbying and investment are urgently required to create the awareness that is needed around the whole area so that the issue can be tackled properly.

“Unfortunately, that is not happening at the moment – but hopefully it can happen in time and with the right supports in place.”

Some facts and figures in relation to food waste:
  • One third of food, approximately 1.3 billion tonnes, is lost or wasted.
  • Food losses and waste amounts to €850 billion in industrialised countries and €555 billion in developing countries.
  • Industrialised countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).
  • The amount of food lost or wasted every year is equivalent to more than half of the world’s annual cereals crop.
  • Per capita waste is between 95-115kg a year in Europe and North America, while sub-Saharan Africa, south and south-eastern Asia, each throw away only 6-11kg a year.
  • Waste of these resources is responsible for 8% of all annual global greenhouse gas emissions.

Brunton, who holds a MSc and PhD from the School of Agriculture and Food at UCD, started his permanent research career in Teagasc and worked there for six years before taking up his role at UCD where he is an associate professor.

Building the foundations

Teagasc proved to be “a great foundation” for many of the areas he works in now.

Teagasc has the luxury of being able to invest in its own facilities as well as getting money directly from the Government for research – so it is a very fruitful place to research in.

He continued: “When I was there, I was based in Ashtown Research Centre and they built a whole facility around the idea of extraction, isolation and characterisation of compost – not just from waste but from many other different biological resources known as a nutraceutical facility.

“Here in UCD I get to blend my research with teaching; I get to talk to the people who are going to feel the consequences of some of the mistakes that we have made in the past and the challenges that are going to have to be faced as a result.”

Mitigating the damage

And, with regard to climate action and the urgent need to decarbonise, does Brunton believe there is still time to mitigate the damage already done?

I think the will is there to engage in climate action and lead more sustainable lives.

He added: “But the impetus to do it is absolutely required – we have to do it if the human race is to survive.

“We may never have faced challenges of this nature before, but I hope that we can address those challenges.

“There is no doubt that everybody is aware of the challenges we are facing but are we addressing it yet at a level that is required?

“I’m not sure about that…but I am an optimist, so I hope we can.”