Sustainability: from waste stream to profit stream

To those paying attention, there is little doubt that the word 'sustainability' is likely to become the word of the next few decades. 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 reports on several innovators in the ingredients field

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 throw-away ingredients. In this first installment of sustainability articles, in the natural and organics field, we examine one aspect — recovering value from the waste- or side-stream ingredients.

Rice bran
As far as waste streams go, proceeds from rice are as long and wide as the venerable Yangtze River. Worldwide there are some 60-70 million metric tonnes 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 the bran contains more than 107 antioxidants, and high levels of vitamin E, magnesium, B vitamins, polysaccharides and polyphenols.

Then along came Nutracea, a Phoenix, Arizona-based company that figured out how to stabilize rice bran and increase its shelf life, thus opening the door for product innovation. In 2008, the company discovered that rice bran has high functionality in meat products, especially in meat emulsions, says marketing director Darin Barney. "You can replace soy-protein isolate (which I think costs $2-$3 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). For us it is a huge opportunity," he says. Rice bran can also be added to breads, batters and breading to dramatically increase nutritional profile.

Nutracea has grown dramatically since its founding in the early 1990s, Barney says. The company recently purchased Irgovel, the largest rice bran-oil processing facility in South America. "Rice-bran oil makes a great edible cooking oil. It's got a 190-degree smoke point and a light flavour, and has a number of applications." For instance, 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.

NEEN273/ISTOCKPHOTOCranberry seeds/powder
The tiny cranberry seed, the 'side stream' derived from the production of sweetened and dried cranberries, is a significant profit source for several companies. Cranberry seeds contain a higher level of tocotrienols, powerful cancer-fighting antioxidants, than any other plant, research shows. University of Massachusetts-Amherst researcher Dr Wasef Nawar's study found that cranberry-seed oil contains significant amounts of these potent forms of Vitamin E without the palmitic acid found in other plants containing tocotrienols. Palmitic acid is a saturated fat, something often considered a contributor to cardiovascular disease.

Atlanta, Georgia-based AHD International uses 100 per cent waste stream to create cranberry powder, a stable ingredient that is 25 per cent protein and can be added to food and beverage products.

According to John Alkire, president of AHD, the company has been working on this new strategy for two years and is now beginning to do commercial shipments. The impact on the bottom line is significant. Last year AHD realized less than a half-million dollars from the new line. This year, he says, they are on track to book $5 million in new revenue.

Decas Botanical Synergies (DBS) of Carver, Massachusetts, has also taken up the cause. Dan Souza, director of sales and marketing, 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 dried cranberry line and produce high-quality oil that is rich in omega-3s, 6s and 9s. Its addition to the DBS product portfolio has been a great success. The omega-3s market has exploded over the last few years as consumer awareness and good science continue to grow. Manufacturers and consumers have long sought a reliable nonanimal source of omega-3s, and OmegaCran is just that."

Souza says the company also has some revolutionary products in R&D that are derived from what was once considered waste, and is seeking to find ways to become more efficient and utilize any and all side streams generated in its facilities.

AndrewJohnson/ISTOCKPHOTOEggshell membrane
Some 450,000 tonnes of eggshells are sent to landfills per year, according to Kevin Ruff, technical director at ESM Technologies in Carthage, Missouri. "They take up space in landfill and it costs to get rid of them," he says. 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 waste stream to profit stream] by trying to find a solution to the problem of leftover eggshells from the egg-breaking business. 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 ESC (egg shell calcium).

"Further inside, there's the membrane. It has collagen, glycosaminoglycens, and includes hyaluronic acid, plus amino acids. We zeroed in on joint health, developed a formulation, and branded it NEM (natural eggshell membrane)." Clinical studies with NEM have shown pain reduction after seven days of treatment."

Currently ESM brings in about 15,000lb of eggshells at a time, and runs through them in a short period, Ruff says. "Our strategy is to build branded ingredients, IP protected, high-quality products that people can use and feel the difference."

Olive-mill waste
A by-product of olive-oil production — vegetation water (olive water) — is a problem for the industry. The olive is only 15-20 per cent oil and more than 50 per cent water. That water and pomace has to be collected in pools, and it putrifies, creating noxious odours and polluting groundwater. In the Mediterranean alone, this amounts to some 10 million metric tonnes a year of this waste, all of which needs disposing.

Its disposal without any treatment is known to cause serious environmental problems, especially in the Mediterranean area where about 97 per cent of the world's annual olive oil is produced.

However, olive polyphenols, present in extra-virgin olive oil in small amounts and considered responsible for extra-virgin olive oil's health benefits, are abundant in olive water. Olive water contains 300-500 times more polyphenols than the oil. These natural antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds are safe, and have applications for joint pain, swelling, inflammatory skin conditions and improving the immune system.

About 10 years ago, Roberto Crea, CEO of Hayward, California-based CreAgri, found a prototype machine able to extract four different fractions: pits (for pellet stoves), oil, skins for animal feed, and olive water. "Our approach was to stabilize the water, turn it into a product with applications in cosmetics, dietary supplements, food and animal feed," he says.

"When you concentrate the juice [olive water], 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. Studies show that you need 100mg of olive polyphenols to render a beneficial health effect. In order to get that you'd have to consume 3-4oz of the best olive oil. Now you can get that same benefit by taking a capsule," Crea says.

CreAgri has branded the ingredient (hydroxtyrosol) HydroxT, and its dietary-supplement product Olivenol, which now is being distributed in six Asian countries, 25 European countries and soon in the US.

"This is a great model for developing countries," Crea says. "It allows the farmer to reclaim the water and produce zero waste. It is self-sustaining, and creates new opportunities for businesses. And best of all, he says, "you can make more money from the juice than from the oil. Olive oil becomes a by-product."

A little more than 10 years ago, California-based Constellation Wines US, one of the world's largest wine companies, generated some four to five million pounds of waste in its manufacture of wine.

"Most of this became compost for the state's farms," says Robert Sambueso, production manager at Polyphenolics, a division of Constellation that produces several resveratrol ingredients from the waste stream for use in supplements, beverages and foods. "But when urban sprawl started becoming apparent, we were becoming hard-pressed to find places for it."

The company's founder, Anil Shrikhande, PhD, and his team patented a water-based process of extraction, and created a product for Constellation that now generates millions in extra profits, vastly reduces the waste stream and returns millions to the company.

Efforts to ensure and communicate the efficacy of the products have been part of the success, Sambueso says. "We have supported clinicals using our products. It is important to be able to verify the quality and efficacy so that people can rely on your products."

Polyphenolics is successfully co-branding products with companies such as GNC, and multi-level marketers Usana Health Sciences and Melaleuca, Sambueso says.

Polyphenolics' brands include MegaNatural grape-seed extract; MegaNaturalBP (BP standing for blood pressure, which clinicals indicate is ameliorated by the product); and GSKE-40, made from grape skins, grape seeds and grape stems, and is classified as a grape-pomace extract.

Clearly there is more to be explored in this arena. Perhaps a slumping economy may force more companies into the paradigm shift these innovators describe. As Nutracea's Barney says, "If more companies started considering their waste stream from another perspective, they could be making a lot more money and doing good for the environment."

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