Potato & Waste

Utilising the whole potato

The Broader Context


Food security, as defined by the United Nations' Committee on World Food Security, is the condition in which all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. The world has yet to reach such a point. The ultimate ambition is to achieve Zero Hunger (SDG2), being one of the global goals from the United Nations in their 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

The potato is one of the world’s most widely-consumed food crops¹ and the fourth largest food crop. In the past, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has recommended the potato as a food security crop, as the world deals with a growing population and the consequent need for additional food. 

The year 2008 was declared ‘the year of the potato’ by the FAO. And for a number of years, the Chinese administration has required farmers to use at least 5% of their land to grow potatoes. The rationale is to be able to feed its people with safe, affordable and nutritious food, requiring less land and water. 

Food waste remains a blight in our societies, with most of the food loss in some areas of the world occurring during harvest and storage, or not being eaten by consumers in the western economies. The FAO estimates that annually 30% of food produced for human consumption is either lost in the supply chain or wasted before it can be consumed. This basically means that 1 in each 3 calories produced is not eaten by people it was produced for.

At LW/M, we aim to use the whole potato. To realise this, we focus on increasing our potato utilisation first. The next step is to prevent and reduce food loss and waste where possible, and the third step is to valorise all our by-products and waste streams as high as we can, both ecologically and economically. In 2013 we carried out a major study along our total value chain to establish a food loss and waste mass balance model. From this we know the percentage of potatoes lost during harvest, long-term storage, and when processing potatoes into frozen products. Around 1% of our packed frozen finished products is wasted, and is used as animal feed. We also learned that 6 to 8% of our finished product is wasted during final preparation at our customers, and another part is wasted (not eaten) by consumers. We are committed to reducing food waste in our own supply and value chain, including supporting our customers with insights into how to reduce food waste in their kitchen operations.

[1] The other three crops are corn, wheat and rice.

Objective

Our 2020 objective is to increase our potato utilization by 10% per tonne of consumed, finished product; to increase the valorisation of our by-products and waste streams; and to promote a more conscious consumption in our value chain, resulting in a reduced ecological footprint. This means we will need less land and fewer resources to produce the same amount of finished product.

2018 Results versus 2008 baseline

  • Our potato utilisation (as produced) improved by 6.8%
  • We send zero waste to landfill, and 2.7% waste is incinerated
  • 97.3% of our by-products and waste streams is reused, recycled
    or recovered
  • Customer pilot to reduce food waste resulted in only 1% fries wasted

Results versus international recognised sustainability standards

  • 100% of potatoes are sourced sustainably, certified against a SAI FSA benchmarked standard (see the Sustainable Agriculture chapter for more information)
  • 100% of our vegetable oil is renewable; the palm oil we use is 100% segregated CSPO²
  • 85% of packaging materials are renewable, with 100% FSC certified carton made from recycled cardboard and 100% of our plastics are recyclable and made from mono-materials (PE or PP).

[2] Segregated CSPO = Certified Sustainable Palm Oil, audited against RSPO Standards & Principles (Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oi). The term segregated means the CSPO is handled and kept separated in the process from harvesting palm nuts till processing refined oil it into the final food.

‘LW/M has been one of the ambassadors for the Taskforce Circular Economy in Food, which aims to minimize food waste, both across the food chain and among consumers. Not only are they looking at their own operations, they are also actively looking for ways to work with their customers to see how they can reduce food waste. And their goal is clear: they want to champion the cause across the industry, encouraging others to follow suit and make a difference not just in the Netherlands, but internationally as well.’

Toine Timmermans
Programme Manager Sustainable Food Chains
Wageningen Food & Biobased Research
Wageningen, the Netherlands

‘The pilot project we worked on with LW/M at two FEBO locations looked into an issue that is important to us: reducing waste. We wanted to find out the percentage of fries we lost each week, and how we could reduce this. We created lists for our staff to fill in at the end of each shift, where they could note how much was wasted due to over frying, spillage, and so on. The results shocked some of our staff. When we translated wastage into portions of fries, it became clear that we were not just wasting a commodity, we were wasting money. By introducing greater awareness about where the waste was occurring, one of the pilot locations was able to cut waste by almost 17 percent.’  

Ferry Stevens
Quality Manager FEBO
Amsterdam, the Netherlands

‘We have done a lot of good work since our last report. One notable project is the residual heat network, where we capture low-quality heat and we send it to a neighbouring business at our Kruiningen plant through hot water pipes. They then use this to dry onions. I am proud that as a company we have undertaken an initiative that is driven purely by our desire to share value and further our sustainability agenda. Looking ahead, there are two areas we are working on. First, we are researching using the potato starch that is released when we cut potatoes into French fries as an ingredient in food products. Currently it is used in a range of non-food areas. Second, we are working on making food products from additional sidestreams. Together, these goals will help us achieve our aim of ensuring that what comes in as food goes out as food.’

Erik de Been
Technology development leader
LW/M Strategic Innovation
Kruiningen, the Netherlands

Key Results 2017 – 2018

We continue to focus on improvi ng our potato utilisation and reducing food loss and waste. For example, we work with our suppliers to make the supply chain more efficient, and look for ways to use any ‘waste’ we produce in the most productive and sustainable way possible. Below we outline the areas in which we have made progress.

Use more, waste less

We made strong progress in our potato utilisation, moving from an increase of 4.2% over our 2008 baseline in 2016, to 7.9% over our baseline in 2017. In 2018, unfortunately, this figure dropped again to 6.8% for a number of reasons (see improved potato utilisation graph).One of the key reasons for the major improvement in 2017 was the switch to the Premium Product Line (PPL) at our Bergen op Zoom plant in the Netherlands. 

The PPL is a state-of-the-art production line that incorporates the latest technologies, and includes a second fry line. The PPL improves potato usage and creates a better balance between fry and flake production. Potato crop quality is a significant factor in potato utilisation. The 1% drop in 2018 was related to overall challenges with crop quality, driven by adverse weather conditions during the growing season.

We utilise the whole potato

We know that to make one kilo of fries, we need roughly two kilos of potatoes out of field. So what happens to that lost kilo? Half of this lost kilo is water evaporated during storage, drying and mainly the pre-frying phases. Another major contributor to raw potato weight loss is tare soil, debris and stones, which arrive from the farm stuck to the potato. Once this is removed, you have cut another 3-4% of each kilo. And then of course you have the potato peel, which account for up to 8% of the potato’s weight. All potatoes, slivers and nubbins (approximately 20% of the total weight received), unsuitable to be turned into fries, are then processed into potato flakes. This is another high value product used as a food ingredient in a wide variety of foods.

Below we outline what happens to a potato when it comes through our doors. Our goal is to move our potato processing by-products up the food waste hierarchy, based on the ‘Moerman Ladder’. Achieving this will require a multi-pronged approach. It will involve preventing waste, reducing inputs, increasing re-use, and continuing to look for new opportunities to increase value from any potato by-product and waste stream.

The future of potato peels

And it is the peel that continues to interest us. While the peels we remove by steam are currently used as cattle feed, we wanted to know if there is a way to utilise them more effectively. Which is why we carried out a research programme with Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, under the auspices of the Dutch government-subsidised CARVE programme.

CARVE aims to minimise food waste and increase valorisation from producers, rather than consumers. The research looked into bio-refining potato peels into food ingredients or other components.  

Food-grade starch going circular

We continue to investigate the use of high-quality white (native) potato starch, with the goal of using it in a better way. The starch is released when we cut potatoes into French fries. As a result of its strong adhesion and binding properties, it can be used in a range of areas, including bioplastics, wallpaper glue and drilling mud. However, we would rather find a way to use it as a food ingredient. We are currently looking into better options within this area.   

The future of potato peels

And it is the peel that continues to interest us. While the peels we remove by steam are currently used as cattle feed, we wanted to know if there is a way to utilise them more effectively. Which is why we carried out a research programme with Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, under the auspices of the Dutch government-subsidised CARVE programme.

CARVE aims to minimise food waste and increase valorisation from producers, rather than consumers. The research looked into bio-refining potato peels into food ingredients or other components.  

Food-grade starch going circular

We continue to investigate the use of high-quality white (native) potato starch, with the goal of using it in a better way. The starch is released when we cut potatoes into French fries. As a result of its strong adhesion and binding properties, it can be used in a range of areas, including bioplastics, wallpaper glue and drilling mud. However, we would rather find a way to use it as a food ingredient. We are currently looking into better options within this area.   

Collaborating with customers to cut waste

We continued to work closely with our customers to look for ways to improve product use, so that as much of our product as possible is served to the end consumer. This includes:

  • Offering customers demonstrations, and in some cases specific support on the most effective and efficient way of cooking our products to avoid waste
  • Developing products that stay warm longer, so that they are available to be sold for longer and result in less food waste during preparation and consumption
  • Identifying key moments when our products are wasted, and working with customers to reduce this waste in their outlets.

By spending time with our customers, we have learned that measuring and awareness are key. For example, we carried out a pilot project at a food service customer’s outlet in the Netherlands to help them cut food waste. This approach enabled us to reduce their food waste to just 1%. In 2018 we initiated a second pilot at another large food service customer in the Netherlands. We will share learnings from these pilots with other customers to inspire them to take action themselves and start fighting food waste.

Being transparent, making a difference

If we want to really cut food waste and help contribute to food security, we know we cannot do it alone. We need to find ways to influence others in our supply chain, in our sector, or even further afield. This is one of the reasons that we are transparent about our sustainability objectives and performance. We want to share knowledge and make a difference.

That’s why we are one of 25 core partners in ‘Samen tegen Voedselverpilling’ (United against Food loss and Waste). ‘Samen tegen Voedselverspiling’ is an initiative of Wageningen University & Research, the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, Three-Sixty, Food Tech Brainport and regional public organisations. It brings together companies from across the food sector, as well as national and local authorities, with the aim of helping to prevent and reduce food waste. Its goal is to cut food waste by 50% by 2030, compared to 2015, in line with UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3.

The stakeholder board of ‘United Against Food Loss & Waste’ also functions as a think-tank and a source of inspiration, challenging businesses to innovate more rapidly. Participants, who have to be transparent and annually report about their food waste, can use insights gained from the European research programme REFRESH, which is coordinated by Wageningen University & Research.

At the same time, LW/M is an active member of EUPPA, the European Potato Processors Association. Since 2013 we have chaired the EUPPA’s Sustainability Committee, which supports the sector in taking responsibility for food loss and waste reduction by adopting a total supply chain approach. Through activities such as wastewater treatment, water reuse and recycling, reducing packaging, and increasing biogas production, all EUPPA members can cut their carbon footprint, reduce food loss and waste and produce more sustainable potato products.

Making waste a thing of the past

Annually, we turn 1.7 million tonnes of potatoes into 890,000 tonnes of finished potato products. At the same time, we generate 436,000 tonnes of by-products and waste streams. Of this volume, more than 97% is valorised and repurposed or reused sustainably. This means over 300,000 MT of potato by-products (mainly potato peels) are repurposed and used locally as animal feed.

Note: For actual amount of waste, please click here.

But this is not enough, and we regret that one large waste stream (our aerobic water treatment sludge) can no longer be used as a natural fertiliser on farm land in the Netherlands and Belgium. This is due to stricter regulations, introduced in 2016. 

We now need to dispose of this side-stream and send it for incineration, which has increased our incinerated waste percentage from 0.2 to 2.6%. While we continue to look for ways to prevent and further reduce our ‘waste’ streams, we are also looking for ways to better use the by-products, side streams and waste we do produce. But that requires vision, innovation, collaboration and investment.

More sustainable packaging

The main role of packaging is to contain and protect our products. Consequently, sustainable packaging needs to be functional, proportionate to the product volume it contains, food safe and healthy for individuals and communities throughout its entire life cycle. It should be made from 100% recyclable mono-materials or renewable materials, if technologically possible, and truly functional in the life cycle of the product. Finally, it should be disposed of in a responsible way, and pre-sorted, collected and recycled as much as possible at the end of its lifecycle.

We have not reported on our product packaging before, as we considered it a merely functional element of our products, and in the past followed the ‘reduce-reuse-recycle’ strategy to make our packaging more sustainable. Our product packaging consists for 85% out of renewable materials, based on the total weight of all primary, secondary and tertiary pack materials.  

Plastic packaging (bags, shrink wrap film) is 100% recyclable, made from mono-materials (PE or PP). Cartons, bulk totes and slip-sheets are made of 100% FSC-certified, recycled cardboard. Wooden pallets we use are part of a European pallet pool and reused on average 150 times during their entire life cycle.

As a result of this approach, we have been able to reduce our packaging materials (by weight) by approximately 25% over the past decade. 

We have now reached the limits of the ‘material reduction’ strategy and will explore alternative ways to make our packaging more sustainable.

In the near future, we aim to develop a separate sustainable packaging strategy to look into how we can take the next step to make our product packaging more sustainable, while staying focused on its main function: to protect our valuable potato products and serve our customers with fit-for-purpose solutions.

Outlook for 2019/2020

We will continue to increase our potato utilisation, by implementing best practices and developing new ones to generate 10% more finished products from our potato pile versus our 2008 baseline. We aim to further invest in innovative technologies to support using the whole potato and further increasing the potato utilisation of our finished products.

The perfect circular solution for our native potato starch would be to keep it at food grade, and use it as clean, 100% pure potato starch in our own potato products. We will continue to focus on moving other potato processing by-products up the food waste hierarchy, based on the ‘Moerman Ladder’.

Key challenges


Waste
In 2016, the Dutch and Belgian governments created stricter norms in fertilisation regulations. As a consequence, the (aerobic) wastewater sludge we generate is no longer allowed to be used as a natural fertiliser within the agriculture sector. The result is we now have to dispose of a useful by-product as waste, which, until 2016, was used productively. This means that a substantially higher percentage of our waste (2.8% rather than 0.2%) is now incinerated.

We view this as a legislative omission, which hinders the needed transition towards a circular economy and circular agricultural model (referenced as ‘Kringlooplandbouw’, being the key word in the official vision of the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality).

We want to appeal to European regulators and both the Dutch and Belgian governments to reassess the value by-products from wastewater treatment plants can have as natural fertilisers, given their high organic matter content and containing important micronutrients, such as zinc.  

Cutting Waste
One of our ongoing challenges is engaging customers on food waste pilots. While there is clearly a very healthy business case to reduce food waste, we need to find ways to more effectively engage customers on this issue. Currently, for example:

  • We offer training programmes on the right way to cook our products
  • We are working with customers on the best way to manage their menus
  • We carried out studies in customers’ kitchens to identify opportunities to reduce the percentage of fries wasted. 

We will continue with all these initiatives, with the aim of working with more customers and adding value to our relationships by improving on their relevant needs and expectations.