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Food waste is recycled

The Danish food industry is good at using food waste in different ways so the amount that actually goes to waste is limited – especially with regard to animal products.

2019.02.18 | Janne Hansen

The great majority of waste products from the food industry in Denmark are recycled and used for various purposes. Photo: Colourbox

The great majority of waste products from the food industry in Denmark are recycled and used for various purposes. Photo: Colourbox

Failed veggies can be used to produce biogas, cracked eggs can be fed to mink and waste milk can be used as calf feed. In Denmark the food industry is good at avoiding food waste by using discarded products for other purposes – totally in tune with the circular bioeconomy spirit. 

- Compared to the amount that is produced, only a small percentage of food is wasted in both the primary production and the food industry annually in Denmark, says Research Assistant Anna Borum from the Department of Food Science, Aarhus University. Together with colleagues from the Department of Food Science and the Department of Agroecology, and at the request of the Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark, she has analysed food waste in the primary production and food industry in Denmark. The results have been published in a report from DCA – Danish Centre for Food and Agriculture. 

Only small amounts are wasted

Food production is one of the human activities that contributes most significantly to greenhouse gas emissions in addition to using various limited resources such as water, land and minerals. Keeping this in mind, it is even more of a pity if food products are not eaten but instead go to waste. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than one third of the food produced goes to waste globally. 

How bad is the situation in Danish food production – and wherein lie potential problems with food waste? The researchers from Aarhus University have investigated the facts. They looked at primary production and the food industry and divided the food products into five categories: 

  • Meat and meat products, including fish
  • Milk and dairy products
  • Eggs and poultry
  • Cereals and bakery products
  • Fruit and vegetables, including potatoes

The studies revealed that only minimal amounts of food products from the primary production and the food industry in Denmark go to waste, since many of the waste products are used to produce biogas, animal feed, fertiliser or pharmaceutical products. 

Animal production has the least food waste

The waste of animal food products is very small and constant from year to year. In the primary production, the main causes of waste are sick animals, mortality during transportation, and rejection at the slaughterhouse. With regard to the primary production of vegetable products, there is more food waste and greater variation from year to year. Here, the main causes of waste are crop diseases and pests. 

In the food industry, food waste comes mainly from entrails, bones, heads and skin from animals, and from peels, pulp and trimming from fruit and vegetables. 

The report contains a table showing more specifically what the five food categories generate with regard to waste and how the waste is recycled. Waste from meat, eggs, fruit and vegetables can be used for biogas, waste from meat, cereals, milk and fruit can be used for feed, and waste from meat, milk, fruit and vegetables can be used for fertiliser.   

Food waste is recycled

The study clarifies that the lion’s share of food waste from the primary production and the food industry in actual fact does not go to waste but is recycled for various purposes, including animal feed, biogas or fertiliser. Using food waste as fertiliser contributes to the soil’s nutrient replenishment and improvement of soil fertility. 

Inedible products can be burned and used for heat production. Waste products that are used for feed can replace the need to produce other feed. Finally, some waste products are transformed into high value products, such as fish oil or fish meal, which can be used in the production of food or feed. 

The majority of food waste in Denmark occurs farther out in the food chain, i.e. from retailers to households. It is estimated that in industrialised countries waste at the consumer level accounts for approximately 40 per cent of total food waste. 


For more information please contact

You can download DCA report no. 143 December 2018 “Food waste in the Danish primary production and food industries” here. 

Research Assistant Anna Borum, Department of Food Science, email: ab@food.au.dk 

Food, Agro, DCA, Food