From carbon footprints to efficient use of natural resources, ”sustainability“ covers a huge spectrum of strategies designed to save resources and create wealth. James Townsend, managing editor of NFM's sister publication Functional Ingredients, reports on innovations from ingredients suppliers that are greening up the supplements field.
A truly sustainable retailer looks beyond the store to the products on the shelves. And the ingredients in those products. Are they being sourced sustainably? And—just as important—what happens to waste from the production process?
Numerous enterprising companies worldwide have discovered gold in what was once considered dross. Waste-stream products are changing attitudes, increasing profits and pointing the way for others. The phrase “paradigm shift” is commonly heard among people who delve into these throwaway ingredients. Here we examine one way ingredients manufacturers are pushing the sustainability envelope: recovering value from waste- or side-stream ingredients.
As far as waste streams go, proceeds from rice are as long and wide as the Yangtze River. Worldwide there are some 66 million to 72 million tons of rice bran generated each year, most of which never gets used because of its tendency to quickly rot once separated from the kernel. That is certainly a waste because bran contains more than 107 antioxidants, high levels of vitamin E, magnesium, B vitamins, polysaccharides and polyphenols.
Then along came Nutracea, a Phoenix-based company that figured out how to stabilize bran and increase its shelf life, opening the door for product innovation. In 2008, the company discovered that rice bran is useful in meat products, especially in meat emulsions, says Marketing Director Darin Barney. “You can replace soy-protein isolate—which I think costs $2 to $3 per pound now—with rice bran. We sell ours at about 30 cents a pound. It increases the yield of finished products and it reduces purge, the watery substance often found at the bottom of packaged meat products.” Rice bran can also be added to breads, batters and breading to dramatically increase nutritional profile. In pizza crust, rice bran increases the yield, retains water during the cooking process and saves money because the batter doesn't soak up as much of the oil. And it's healthier, Barney adds.
Nutracea also recently purchased Irgovel, the largest rice-bran-oil processing facility in South America. “Rice-bran oil makes a great edible cooking oil,” Barney says. “It's got a 190-degree smoke point and a light flavor, and has a number of applications.”
The tiny cranberry seed, the side stream derived from the production of sweetened and dried cranberries, has also turned a potential waste product into profits for several companies. Cranberry seeds contain a higher level of tocotrienols, powerful cancer-fighting antioxidants, than any other plant, research shows. Plus, cranberry-seed oil contains significant amounts of these potent forms of vitamin E without the palmitic acid found in other tocotrienol-rich plants, according to research at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Palmitic acid is a saturated fat, which is considered a contributor to cardiovascular disease.
Atlanta-based AHD International uses 100 percent waste stream to create cranberry powder, a stable ingredient that is 25 percent protein and can be added to food and beverage products. AHD expels the oil with a cold-press process, converting the remainder to flour for use in the baking industry.
Decas Botanical Synergies of Carver, Mass., has also taken up the cause.
Dan Souza, director of sales and marketing for the company, says, “We use side streams in many of our products, but the best example is OmegaCran, our cranberry-seed oil. We developed a technology to cull the seeds from the [sweetened, dry cranberry] line and produce high-quality oil that is rich in omega-3s, 6s and 9s.”
Souza says the company also has some revolutionary products in research and development that are derived from what was once considered waste, and is seeking ways to become more efficient and use any and all side streams generated in its facilities.
Some 496,000 tons of eggshells are sent to landfills per year, according to Kevin Ruff, technical director at ESM Technologies in Carthage, Mo. “They take up space in the landfill, and it costs to get rid of them.” ESM, a small, family-owned company that's been in the egg business for generations, is taking full advantage of these statistics. “We came to this [converting a waste stream to a profit stream] by trying to find a solution to the problem of leftover eggshells from the egg-breaking business,” Ruff says. “We spent a lot of time researching what was available in eggshells and the membranes. We started zeroing in on bone health; two of the largest market categories out there are joint and bone health. The shell contains mostly calcium that lacks the impurities found in mined calcium carbonate and oyster shells.” From this, the company branded Eggshell Calcium.
“Further inside, there's the membrane,” Ruff says. “It has collagen, glycosaminoglycens and hyaluronic acid, plus amino acids. We zeroed in on joint health, developed a formulation and branded it Natural Eggshell Membrane. Clinical studies with NEM have shown pain reduction after seven days of treatment.”
A byproduct of olive oil production, vegetation water—or olive water—is a problem for the industry. The olive is only 15 percent to 20 percent oil and more than 50 percent water. That water and pomace must be collected, and it putrefies, creating noxious odors and polluting groundwater. In the Mediterranean, where about 97 percent of the world's olive oil is produced, this amounts to some 11 million tons of waste a year. Without any treatment, olive-mill wastewater is known to cause serious environmental problems.
However, olive polyphenols, present in extra-virgin olive oil in small amounts and considered responsible for the oil's health benefits, are abundant in olive water, also called juice. Olive water contains 300 to 500 times more polyphenols than the oil. These natural antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds have applications that range from reducing joint pain and swelling to improving inflammatory skin conditions and strengthening the immune system.
Roberto Crea, CEO of Hayward, Calif.-based CreAgri, found a prototype machine able to extract four different olive fractions: pits for use in pellet stoves, oil, skins for animal feed and olive water. “Our approach was to stabilize the juice, turn it into a product with applications in cosmetics, dietary supplements, food and animal feed,” he says.
“When you concentrate the juice, it becomes stable. Then we freeze-dry the juice to powder. Then you can package it in boxes of plastic and ship it anywhere. The user can then formulate it, add it to pasta, mayonnaise, beverages, lots of things,” Crea says. “Studies show that you need 100 milligrams of olive polyphenols to render a beneficial health effect. In order to get that you'd have to consume 3 to 4 ounces of the best olive oil. Now you can get that same benefit by taking a capsule.”
CreAgri has branded the hydroxtyrosol ingredient HydroxT and its dietary supplement product Olivenol, which is distributed in six Asian countries, 25 European countries and will soon be in the U.S.
“This is a great model for developing countries,” Crea says. “It allows the farmer to reclaim the water, produce zero waste. It is self-sustaining and creates new opportunities for businesses. And best of all, you can make more money from the juice than from the oil. Olive oil becomes a byproduct.”
A little more than 10 years ago, California-based Constellation Wines U.S., one of the world's largest wine companies, generated between 4 million and 5 million pounds of waste in its manufacturing.