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USQ researcher converts food waste into reusable materials

food waste

The University of Southern Queensland’s Dr Kiran Ramesh Mahale has discovered ways to convert food waste into reusable materials. 

For Mahale, food has always been considered next to godliness. As a child, he was taught not to waste the precious commodity and this lesson set him on the path to food waste research. 

Mahale started his PhD at the University of Southern Queensland in 2017, studying how to convert food waste into useful materials. Or in his words, creating ways to generate revenue for farmers. 

“I first started looking at winery waste. I found after they had crushed the grapes and taken the juice, the residue was discarded,” Mahale said. 

“That solid residue has many different chemical compounds which are pharmaceutically very important and in high demand. 

“One of the compounds I extracted and purified was malvidin-3-glucoside, which has a market price of $317 for 10mg,” he said. 

“This shows that, in some cases, wineries can make more money by reprocessing their waste than selling wine.” 

Repurposing food waste can also help save another precious resource – water. 

“According to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, food waste costs the Australian economy around $20 billion every year,” Mahale said. 

“When you look at it, you realise there are many other resources also going to waste alongside that $20 billion – such as the water, fuel and human hours that are needed to grow the crops. 

“Fight Food Waste Cooperative Research Centre statistics have shown that around 25 per cent of the total water our country uses for food production goes into waste products,” he said. 

“Knowing we have a lack of water, how can we waste that 25 per cent?” 

After extracting the chemical compounds from the leftover grape residue, Mahale then converted the remaining material into graphitic activated carbon, which he used to purify contaminated water. 

He also delved into the reuse of pineapple waste for water purification and soil enrichment. 

“If we can convert waste into a value-added product which can provide revenue for our farmers while helping to tackle our environmental issues – it’s a win-win for everyone,” Mahale said. 

“It isn’t always easy to extract some of these materials and compounds, but with the advancement of technology, it will be easier in the future.” 

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