South Australia’s success in getting the proposed Fight Food Waste Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) funded was a much-welcomed outcome for former South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) project director Dr Steven Lapidge.
The now inaugural CEO of the Fight Food Waste CRC, Dr Lapidge has spent years highlighting the $20 billion annual food waste problem in Australia.
During his time at SARDI, the research division of Primary Industries and Regions SA, he spent 14 months from February 2016 collaborating with industry partners to find innovative ways for the Riverland to turn its annual 200,000 tonnes of horticultural food waste into profit.
And with the help of a $317,000 grant from the South Australian River Murray Sustainability Program (SARMS) grant, it was a challenge that proved fruitful.
“In a way, the Riverland food loss and industry waste project, partly funded by SARMS, was a precursor to the national Fight Food Waste CRC, now housed here in South Australia,” Dr Lapidge said.
“The SARMS project was really a fact-finding mission – it allowed us to discover the possibilities and develop the methodology and expertise to take the most promising findings forward for commercialisation as soon as possible under the Fight Food Waste CRC.
“In the Riverland, we’re looking at nearly 70,000 tonnes of premium potatoes that never make it to the supermarket due to failed cosmetics standards, 35,000 tonnes of almond husks and shells, and 21,000 tonnes of unsaleable citrus fruits,” he said.
The Riverland and surrounds, including the Murray Mallee, are the horticultural food bowl of South Australia, Dr Lapidge said.
“And while they deliver fantastic produce, it also generates large amounts of seconds and thirds horticultural products, as well as primary production waste such as grape marc and wood waste, all of which are generally used for low value animal feed or dumped,” he said.
“The challenge was to develop innovative ways to transform food loss and industry waste into higher value products and bioenergy.”
The CRC is now working to commercialise the research that sprouted from the Riverland project as soon as possible.
A fully Australian grapeseed extract is in development, which could end the practice of importing the product into Australia from France.
Plus, there’s further research exploring the creation of a natural food preservative from the pulp of Royal blue and Nadine potatoes.
“One day, discarded almond shells and woody grapevine waste such as stems and trimmings could be generating electricity,” Dr Lapidge said.
“As a nation, we waste so much of what we grow and we could be doing so much more with it.
“When you consider that the Riverland produces and wastes up to 21,000 tonnes of citrus, it’s crazy to think Australia is importing Vitamin C from China.
“Why throw out food when you can turn it into profit?”
SARMS is contributing to the South Australian Government’s commitment and implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and was funded by the Australian Government. The Industry-led Research Sub-Program (IRSP) was a $5 million industry-led applied research grants program designed to improve South Australian River Murray regional productivity and innovation.