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Boosting the use of food and beverage residues in the Western Balkans

By Malina Gont

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Boosting the use of food and beverage residues in the Western Balkans

Meat and dairy by-products could make regional economies greener

The EBRD’s Green Economy Transition (GET) approach commits the Bank to raising its investment in the green economy to 40 per cent of annual business volume by 2020. This is an ambitious and far-reaching target that goes beyond green energy to encompass the full range of sustainability.

A key element of sustainability is how an economy – and a society – copes with limited resources. Many countries where the EBRD invests suffer from a legacy of wasteful use of their natural assets, ranging from commodities to clean air.

Much remains to be done to overcome this legacy, but progress has been made. Today there is widespread recognition of the need to find environmentally sustainable ways of running economies and organising our lives. Implementing these changes requires a holistic approach that examines every activity for its “green” potential and applies best practice.

For example, consider the residues from commercial processing of food and beverages. These residues are often seen as waste, but they can also be treated as resources if firms improve the way they collect and use them.

In order to explore this potential, the EBRD, with the support of the business consultancy EY and with financial backing from the Central European Initiative (CEI), launched a study of potential uses for food and beverage by-products in the Western Balkans.

Preliminary findings, presented at a workshop in Belgrade today, show significant potential in the meat and dairy industries of Serbia. Annual meat production in the country is high, at around 450,000 tonnes. The production processes generate a large quantity of residue, more than 120,000 tonnes, most of which is already being used, mainly in pet food, fertiliser or for fuel.

However, far more could be done. The EBRD study indicates that improvements in technology, which enable higher levels of waste collection and better disposal of certain residues, could boost the use of by-products by up to 50 per cent. The meat sectors in Albania and in Bosnia and Herzegovina, while smaller than in Serbia, could also benefit from more efficient use of residues.

Other industries stand to gain, too. All countries of the Western Balkans have large dairy sectors and sizeable milk-processing industries, but only some of the fresh milk produced enters the dairy industry. This is expected to change in future, with an increase in milk processing.

In Serbia, fresh milk processed by the dairy industry accounted for about 55 per cent of the country’s total milk production in 2014. Of the more than 800,000,000 litres of milk processed each year, only 10 per cent ends up as residue and is reused. Most of this is in the form of whey, which is processed into salty butter or concentrated for use in animal feed. As the dairy market develops, the need for investment in modern technology will grow, along with the need to make better use of residues.

For the meat and dairy sectors alike, the EBRD study shows that there are opportunities to derive greater value from the use of residues by boosting investment in processing facilities, better management, modern technologies and collection systems. This will lead to more efficient use of resources and help to make the economies of the Western Balkans greener.

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