Victoria wants to halve food waste. Here’s how local manufacturers are rising to the challenge.

The Victorian Government has set out its plan to halve food waste by 2030, joining many other countries in a global movement. The objective is to build the state’s circular economy and find new ways to prevent food waste and reuse and recycle food to limit its impact.

Through a range of initiatives, the state is seeking to dramatically reduce the true cost of food waste. According to Sustainability Victoria, food waste creates 3 million tonnes of carbon emissions, wastes 29 billion litres of water and costs $6 billion in lost product and disposal fees each year.1

A key part of the efforts to lower food waste is the Victorian Government’s proposed Circular Economy Regulations 2023, recently closing for public consultation. It is the latest regulatory development designed to manage and de-risk the infrastructure that supports waste reduction.

With Victoria producing 50% of all Australian-made foods and 25% Australia’s national food waste, the state’s food and beverage manufacturers have a large role to play in achieving food waste targets.

Encouragingly, not only is progress being made to advance the circular economy at a state-wide level, but there is mounting evidence manufacturers are embracing the food waste challenge.

Camilla Waterhouse, CommBank’s Executive Manager ESG, says, “[We] are seeing small and medium [manufacturers] innovate and play a proactive role in the transition to a more sustainable economy.”

“Transitioning to a circular resource use framework will play a critical role in both reducing food and packaging waste, and it is an important contributor to our national decarbonisation goals”.

CommBank’s latest Manufacturing Insights report confirmed that 88% of manufacturers believe sustainable manufacturing is important or essential. Reducing and responsibly managing waste was the top-rated sustainability initiative, with 39% already active and 46% planning programs.

Tim Wilson, General Manager Quality at end-to-end food development and manufacturing business Flavour Makers, adds that waste reduction is already part of the industry’s DNA. “We don’t see food waste reduction strictly through a sustainability lens. Maximising yield, reducing wastage and giveaways through the process is also good business.”

Developing circular systems

Another manufacturer strengthening its circular economy practices is Bendigo-based fresh food and ready-made meals producer JL King & Co. The family-owned business is building a new manufacturing facility, set to further transform its approach to waste management.

Michael Robertson, Managing Director, JL King & Co, says it’s an exciting time for the business that is embedding circular practices into the new facility’s design. He says it marks the next phase in the organisation’s culture of food waste management and integration of environmental considerations into work practices at all levels.  

Robertson explains that one step is building a full waste treatment plant to replace waste interceptors and grease pits, but has broader plans and clear environmental management targets to reduce total waste.

Running ahead of Victoria’s aspirations, JL King & Co is targeting a 50% reduction in waste sent to landfill over the next two years and 20% less water consumption in the next 12 months. Jess Hourigan, Head of Products and Marketing, JL King &Co, says that is supported by several programs.

“We are looking across all aspects of our operations to reduce our environmental impact. For example, we’re bringing in best-in-class equipment into our new facility, allowing us to pressure cook and reduce product loss in the process,” Hourigan says.

For JL King & Co and Flavour Makers, working with suppliers and the community is integral to diverting waste from landfill. For JL King & Co, that includes working with animal breeders to turn food scraps into feedstock, with the next step to provide mulch to local growers across its supply chain.

Under one of its brands, the Australian Organic Food Co, that’s available across major supermarket chains, Flavour Makers is working with local growers to create a secondary market for fresh produce that supermarkets may deny due to cosmetic factors.

“We work with our suppliers to turn these vegetables into products like our 100% organic pasta sauces and soups. It helps create an additional revenue stream for growers and supports Australian agriculture while decreasing unnecessary food waste,” Wilson says.

Working with a network of farmers and its partner, Carbon8, the company supports the transition to regenerative agricultural practices. This is helping Flavour Makers advance its goal to become carbon-neutral by 2030.

Identifying and eliminating waste streams

The team at independent dairy manufacturer and distributor Procal Dairies are also active circular economy proponents. Procal Dairies’ General Manager, Laney Quinn, says that reducing food waste is a core principle stemming from generations of “not abiding waste in any way, shape or form”.

Procal Dairies' state-of-the-art factory has an annual capacity of around 100 million litres of dairy products, using modern techniques to minimise water, gas, and electricity use. Quinn explains that Procal Dairies categorises waste into different streams and uses data and technology across its operations to better understand waste sources and mitigation strategies.

When it comes to organic material, the first category is production waste, including physical resources running through transfer lines. Quinn says that until recently, it would flush the lines with water and, with it, up to 300kg per fermented dairy product a week. The Procal team have installed viscosity meters to test what’s in the line and ensure good product isn’t thrown away.

The second stream relates to equipment, where enhancing maintenance, monitoring, training, and sourcing innovative new kit, can help reduce inefficiencies. Quinn also emphasises that safely extending the shelf life of products is another important consideration and can reduce waste, downtime, and production costs.

Wilson agrees, adding that Flavour Makers uses individual quick freezing (IQF) technology to ensure its products' longevity and create efficiencies in the supply chain. The high-speed freezing process reduces spoilage and degradation of food products, improving shelf life.

"By using IQF, we can extend their life and prevent them from going to waste," Wilson says. "This is one of the leading sustainability initiatives we are undertaking as a brand.”

The road to 2030

Procal Dairies, JL King & Co and Flavour Makers are just three of many homegrown manufacturers making strides to decrease food waste. Each business represents a trend towards taking a holistic view of waste management for maximum effect, whether through designing waste out or collaborating with supply chain partners and the community to put it to best use.

A strong and growing commitment among manufacturers is an encouraging sign. To achieve Victoria’s 2030 target, many more will need to join the circular economy in lockstep with consumers, the waste management industry, and other stakeholders.

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