Foodtech: Transforming Food and Industrial Waste into Valuable Resources

Foodtech: Transforming Food and Industrial Waste into Valuable Resources 

Thought Leadership

By Ege Devon, Chief Representative Officer of Enterprise Estonia GCC

Food waste is a global problem, with over 30% of food products ‘lost’ or wasted annually. With food production responsible for 25% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and agriculture accounting for 70% of freshwater usage on average, the catastrophic risk to the environment and climate change is clear. It is also a social issue recognised by the UAE, which, in the lead-up to COP28 in 2023, announced a nationwide action plan to cut food waste by 50% by 2030. 

Notably, the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) has announced [this week] the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Ministries of Climate and Regional Affairs and Agriculture of the Republic of Estonia.

Located in Northern Europe, Estonia has emerged as a proven testbed for innovation and entrepreneurship, including in Foodtech where Estonian startups are leveraging technology to optimise the whole value chain, from production to delivery. As these companies gain global recognition – including in the UAE where Enterprise Estonia has enjoyed positive collaborations via its ‘Taste of Estonia’ platform – the MoU seeks to promote sustainable food systems by focusing on reducing waste, supporting agricultural digital solutions, and leveraging advanced technologies for increased productivity. With Estonian Foodtech solutions well primed to enable a successful bilateral exchange of ideas and innovation, it [also] includes research and development initiatives to strengthen food security and the exchange of technical knowledge on trading conditions, restrictions, and procedures. 

Innovation Is Key to Tackling Food Waste

While our priority remains to pursue new technologies that help prevent food wastage, it is still inevitable in food production – which is why we are working on many new projects with local and global food companies to find ways to valorise this waste, ideally making it [acceptable] for human consumption. 

A great example is apple juice production, where around 25% of the fruit becomes pomace (residues after pressing) on average. In a global apple juice market close to six billion litres annually, this means approximately 1,5 million tonnes of leftovers every year, 80% of which goes to landfills with only a small amount used for animal feed or composting. 

Working with Estonian apple juice producer Kodas (Siidrikoda OÜ), Estonian Foodtech and biotechnology research company TFTAK confirmed that fractions of pomace can be used for human consumption and developed a technology to separate edible parts from the non-edible ones (stems, blossom ends and seeds), eventually coming up with a new and popular product that not only prevents more than 95% of apple pomace from going to waste but also has scientifically proven nutritional benefits. 

Meanwhile, biotechnology startup ÄIO produces edible fats and oils from Estonia’s largest source of production waste – the agricultural and wood industries. In a country 51% covered in forests, the opportunity to consume trees is now a reality thanks to a breakthrough that took six years of research. ÄIO’s RedOil is also suitable for cosmetics and household chemicals, opening possibilities worth billions.

‘Click and Grow,’ now available across the UAE, is another Estonian Foodtech innovation and has become a trendsetter in the hydroponics industry, reinventing edible plant-growing with its Smart Garden system that allows users to grow fresh vegetables year-round and easily, right on their kitchen counter. 

Measurement for Solutions Is Vital

To sum up, every food-producing company should measure the amount of waste they are generating and find the best solutions to avoid it or, if that’s not possible, to valorise the byproducts at the higher levels of the food-recovery hierarchy – preferably re-using them for human consumption as much as possible. 

This approach would not only help reduce the amount of waste but also tackle global problems like greenhouse gas emissions and water scarcity, creating a better future for all of us globally. Forward-thinking countries across the GCC are well placed to explore these essential innovations, utilising initiatives from global partners to make a truly sustainable difference.

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