Practical guidance on how to apply sustainability to raw materials selection has been hard to find. Until now.
Sustainable, but how?
Sustainability is becoming a vital part of our everyday life. It is currently the best concept we have to produce and consume products efficiently, in a lasting and resilient way (stable shelf-life, preservation of qualities), with maximum benefits for health and the environment (balanced nutrition, low associated emissions).
But there is not much guidance offering viable and practical advice on how to improve the sustainability of a product to achieve and demonstrate a significant advance. This brief overview aims to provide such guidance.
Assess and identify
Sustainability is a concept which calls for a holistic, life-cycle thinking. Look at your product, not as a combination of nutrients, tastes and smells, packed in attractive packaging, but as interlinked network chains of previous processes needed to create the product, consume it and manage the waste.
Pet food, like any food or biomass, has particular characteristics which differentiate it from other common goods.
The biggest impact of everyday goods we use, including electronics, cars, and household appliances, comes from the use phase. The biggest impact for pet food is associated with the production of raw materials. This is less obvious when it comes to plant-based products, but much more noticeable if a product contains animal-based components.
That is why, at the German Institute of Food Technologies, so much attention is devoted to the sustainability analysis, using life cycle assessment, of the raw materials used to produce extruded intermediates, meat-based and hybrid products, emulsions and natural colourants.
Through this work, the Institute has been able to identify a few strategies, which can be applied to enhance the sustainability of pet food products.
Seek to substitute
First, consider substitution of high-impacting components (meat) with low impacting plant-based or animal-based materials. It creates enormous potential for innovations in product development triggered by the protein-protein interactions from different sources.
Precise attention should be paid here to the nutritional composition of an end-product, as a reduction in animal-based components might lead to insufficiency of specific components. Hybrid products (high environmentally impacting meat with low impacting meat, meat-fish, meat-plants) are becoming an interesting solution, enabling the maintenance of both nutritional properties and sustainability levels.
Second is what might be called ‘streamlining’ of sustainable impact. It is achieved through processing, but still associated with the selection of starting raw materials. For example, prefer integrating processing stages to combining separate processing stages and the extension of processing lines.
Integration of processing (for example extrusion versus separate cutting, mixing and cooking) should be also performed with initial processing biomass in mind. Multiple experimental trials indicated that it is possible to use moisturised, whole (non-purified) raw materials to produce similar texturised products, both dry and moisturised.
The short overview is not complete but provides valuable insights for the practical application for the enhancement of product sustainability.
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