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Five ways the red meat industry is doing its bit to reduce waste min read

  • We all need to take action to reduce waste, and the Australian red meat industry is no exception. Reducing food waste, along with waste from farms, feedlots and processors, is an important focus for the industry. With a long-term goal of ‘zero waste discharge’, here are five examples of what we’re doing to reduce and reuse waste.



At a glance

  • Zero waste discharge aims to redirect waste towards recycling, beneficial re-use or new products.

  • With innovative new technologies, waste can be turned into resources such as renewable energy, livestock feed and fertilisers.

  • Reducing plastic in meat packaging and reviewing chilled supply chain performance and best before dates are other strategies that are helping to reduce waste.


1. Revolutionising sustainable packaging

Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) has been working with American start-up company, Corumat, to develop patented technology using food and meat waste to make a plastic-free, compostable meat tray that’s also 20% cheaper than plastic meat trays.

Upcycling – transforming products such as food waste into new products of greater value – is helping to improve the sustainability of Aussie beef and lamb, boosting its competitive advantage in the global protein market as a result. While it’s still under development, the new packaging is showing promising signs of market adoption, with Australian red meat businesses looking at how they can implement it successfully.

Another MLA-supported project is helping to reduce plastic in traditional meat trays. The Darfresh® ‘on board’ packaging uses a board made from paper pulp. The meat sits directly on the board and is vacuum-sealed with plastic to seal in freshness and extend shelf life.

The technology uses 70% less plastic than standard trays and is already being trialled in-store at Coles. Packaging innovation is a major opportunity for Aussie red meat to reach its zero waste discharge goals – and meet consumer demand for more sustainable packaging options.


2. Harnessing the power of poo - yes, really

Wastes to Profits is an industry-led project that’s looking at how we can make better use of organic wastes that come from livestock production and municipal water treatment. Supported by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, the initiative aims to convert wastes into valuable products like fertilisers, chemicals and renewable energy.

The project is focused on developing new technologies that can eliminate contaminants and convert wastes, digestate (the material that’s left over after anaerobic digestion of organic matter) and residues into new commercial products, including:

  • bio-derived fuel, chemicals and energy products
  • bio-derived fertilisers and soil conditioners
  • bioplastics and biocomposites.

Creating new products from waste will help support the industry’s long-term economic viability as it strives towards achieving its goal of zero waste discharge.


3. Turning waste into cattle feed

It may sound strange, but another product that can be produced from waste is livestock feed. The Wastes to Profits project has also been developing technologies that will be able to produce nutritionally-advanced feed products from digestate, wastewater, biogas and solid wastes.

Biological processing systems such as microbes, microalgae and novel engineered co-cultures of microorganisms can be used to convert these waste streams into:

  • nutritionally-enhanced single cell protein
  • probiotics
  • algae
  • enzyme supplements.

These clever biological waste conversion processes will help contribute to a sustainable feedbase and deliver improvements in animal productivity, as well as bringing in new revenue streams worth an estimated $80 million per year.


4. Chill up not out

According to an Australian Food Cold Chain Council study, 155 thousand tonnes of meat (valued at $670 million) is wasted each year by poor chilled supply chain performance before it even reaches retail businesses. Some of this wastage is a result of incorrect storage temperatures in warehouses and transportation, reducing the shelf life of chilled meat products.

To help combat this issue, MLA has joined forces with domestic and export suppliers, data logger manufacturers and scientists from the University of Tasmania. They’re working to identify and monitor temperature control issues in the supply chain and propose practical solutions. Once adopted by the industry, the recommendations could reduce pre-retail waste by 15%, along with lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per kg of beef.


5. Bringing best before dates into the 21st century

If you use the best before date on meat packaging to determine whether the meat is safe to eat or not, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that 26% of households throw away meat each week simply due to the date that’s listed on the label. But did you know that retailers base their meat date labels on conservative consumer fridge data from 20 years ago – meaning we could be throwing out perfectly good food?

Unfortunately, food wastage is a huge problem in Australia, and a bigger issue than most of us think. When we throw out food, we’re also wasting the resources it took to get that produce from farm to fork, such as water, feed, fuel and packaging. A more accurate – and sustainable – test of whether food is safe to be consumed or not is actually its sight, smell and/or taste.

To reduce unnecessary waste, the industry is currently looking at providing an updated baseline on consumer refrigerator performance and behaviour to enable retailers and regulators to re-evaluate best before dates. Providing better refrigerator data and more accurate date labelling is seen as a major step forward in reducing the industry’s GHG emissions and food and packaging waste.