School of Chemical Engineering

Forty per cent of the food produced in Australia goes to waste, costing a total of $20 billion each year.

Not only is food waste a loss to the economy, it’s also damaging our environment. The breakdown of food waste in landfills emits millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases each year.

UQ chemical engineering researcher Dr Paul Luckman says there’s more we could be doing with our organic and food waste. He’s leading a new national program, called TRANSFORM, as part of the recently established Fight Food Waste Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), which will identify valuable products from waste streams, then develop processes and technology that can cost-effectively transform the waste materials.

“This program will also be looking to find the technology gaps and process limitations in transforming that waste,” said Dr Luckman.

The team will work across 13 waste–transforming projects with experienced researchers, including UQ waste conversion expert Associate Professor Bronwyn Laycock, to deliver a tool kit for waste transformation processes.

“We’re already looking at a wide range of projects, from turning food waste into supplements to fuelling sustainable wastewater treatment with food waste," said Dr Luckman.

“We’re hoping to save 87 gigalitres of water through recovery and reuse, reduce 30 million tonnes in food waste and save at least 44 million tonnes of greenhouse gases emitted over 10 years.”

The TRANSFORM program aims to create 5200 jobs in rural areas and save $600 million in waste produce and waste-handling costs.

"It’s not only generating growth, but it contributes to the idea of a circular economy."

How engineers are fighting food waste

The Fight Food Waste CRC has many industry and academic partners participating in food waste transformation projects, here are two of the projects.

Potatoes to products

Australia is the largest producer of potatoes in the southern hemisphere, yet up to 40 per cent of this produce is rejected because it does not meet market specifications. The large volume of waste is currently used for animal feed, where it sells for just $10/tonne or it is disposed in landfill at a loss to farmers.

This project will explore options for the transformation of these waste potatoes into higher value products, including into functional foods, bioplastics, edible films, packaging materials, coatings and adhesives.

Researchers also aim to produce raw starch in Australia, reducing the 20,000 tonnes per year that we import due to the absence of a potato starch industry, and they see potato-based prebiotics as a high-end application for this starch. Research has shown that the less digestible starches like potato starch make superior prebiotics that can help prevent pathogen infections and the development of colon cancer, presenting a premium opportunity to commercial operators in this space.

Red meat processing

This project is aimed at increasing the circularity and sustainability of red meat processing, overcoming the challenges associated with animal protein production like biosafety and biosecurity. Researchers will work with commercial partner Australian Country Choice, a major red meat supplier to Woolworths, to identify practices that can best utilise waste produced across the red meat supply chain. The team will then explore solutions that could be adapted across the industry.

Media: Transform Program Leader Dr Paul Luckman, p.luckman@uq.edu.au, +61 (0) 402 466 787; Fight Food Waste CRC Communication Manager Tanya Wilkins, tanya@fightfoodwastecrc.com.au, +61 (0) 439 958 824; UQ Communications, comms@eait.uq.edu.au