Scottish fish, beer, and whisky bio-wastes worth £800m a year

The Scottish economy could be boosted by up to £800 million a year if waste and by-products from fish, beer, and whisky businesses were ‘better utilised’, a new report from Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS) has found.

Scottish fish, beer, and whisky bio-wastes worth £800m a year

According to the ‘Sector Study on Beer, Whisky and Fish’, prepared by sustainability consultancy Ricardo-AEA Ltd and released today (30 June), waste produced by these three sectors could have intrinsic economic value if used for aquaculture, or for animal feed, fertiliser and protein food supplements.

The report was undertaken by ZWS as part of the Scottish Government’s evidence programme with ZWS, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and SEPA, which seeks to ‘inform next steps (including development projects) and longer-term work to understand and maximise the employment, growth and opportunities to be achieved by moving towards a circular approach’.

Report findings

Although there is no formal data collection system for waste and by-products for these three sectors, ZWS undertook ‘various estimates and assumptions’ gathered from published reports and stakeholder interviews to determine that every year more than four million tonnes of bio-based waste and by-products are produced by the whisky sector, 53,682 tonnes are produced by the beer sector, and 189,538 tonnes (including aquaculture fish mortalities) are produced by the fish and shellfish sector.

Although the materials are already largely sent for use in combined heat and power plants, or for use in fish and cattle feed, ZWS has identified that there are ‘new uses’ for these by-products that could further boost the economic value of the waste streams.

These include:

  • processing whisky and brewing by-products into ‘high-value biofuels, chemicals, and higher nutrition animal and fish feeds including high purity protein and algae production’;
  • extracting ‘highly-refined’ protein compounds from fish wastes, for use in human food supplements; and
  • replacing imported soya compounds in fish feeds with protein from Scottish-grown beans.

By using data provided by five companies – Celtic Renewables; Beans4Feeds; PUREOPE; CellsUnited; and Horizon Proteins – (case studies of which are included in the report), ZWS estimated that the economic value of ‘better utilising’ these wastes and by-products could be worth ‘at least £595 million a year’.

This is based on:

  • applying Celtic Renewables technology to all malt whisky draff for various biofuel and chemical products, as well as the residue suitable for animal feed (£100 million);
  • replacing imported soya products with Scottish-grown bean protein for aquaculture feeds and other animal feeds (£65 million, of which £9.5 million would accrue to Scottish farmers);
  • selling the polyphenol content of all the malt and grain distillery by-products in Scotland (£50 million);
  • applying CellsUnited processes to turn salmon processing waste into protein food supplements and using salmon oil and residue for fertiliser (£300 million); and
  • utilising the protein in pot ale and spent wash (valued at £272 million, although it is more realistic to anticipate around £80 million of value could be realised).

However, ZWS has said that these figures ‘do not allow for the value of current uses of the by-products in every case’, and that there could be ‘further potential high-value uses of beer, whisky and fish by-products that could be integrated with the above examples whose economic value it has not been possible to calculate’.

As such, it is estimated that the true value for Scotland could be between £500 million and £803 million per year.

Report recommendations

The report goes on to recommend a number of actions to recoup this value, including cross-sector awareness raising, support for innovations and investment, bio-resource mapping, and assessments of opportunities for regional bio-economy hubs.

The report concludes: ‘If the highlighted opportunities for growth and resource efficiency are to be realised it is recommended that Scottish Government and its agencies/partners work with stakeholders, not only in the beer, whisky and fish sectors, but also the wider bio-based sectors, to develop a strategy to produce a robust and extensive bio-based circular economy in Scotland.

‘This will involve various elements including better data provision, information sharing and collaboration, and a strategic approach to support innovation of both high-tech processes as well as locally-adapted new bioenterprises. It is hoped that the information and insight provided in the report offers a significant foundation for this strategy.

‘As the solutions are all strongly sector [focused] it is recommended that the various opportunities are sector-led in order to provide the required buy-in and ownership of businesses within the sector.’

Scotland’s economy can reap big benefits from adopting more circular practices’

Releasing the report today, Iain Gulland, Chief Executive of ZWS, said: “Our latest report highlighting the tremendous potential of the circular economy examines how key sectors of Scotland’s economy can reap big benefits from adopting more circular practices, particularly with regard to making better use of industrial by-products elsewhere in the economy, not just discarding them. Keeping these leftover materials in productive use for as long as possible is a great example of the circular economy in action.

“Zero Waste Scotland is focused on helping industry and agriculture realise these opportunities, to the overall benefit of the Scottish economy and jobs, through targeted work with the bio-economy sector and other key sectors in Scotland as we continue to work to unlock the benefits of the circular economy.”

Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment, Richard Lochhead, welcomed the report’s release this morning, saying: “This is another ground-breaking report published by Zero Waste Scotland that demonstrates how a circular economy can contribute towards business efficiency and profitability.

“The potential boost this could give Scotland’s economy is staggering – up to £803 million each year. Our food and drink industry is already outshining the rest of the UK, imagine what making the most of the sector’s waste and by-products will do.”

He added that the report “presents the Scottish Government with an excellent opportunity to work with stakeholders, in the three sectors identified and the wider bio-based sectors, on a strategic approach to developing a robust and extensive bio-based circular economy in Scotland”.

“I am encouraged by the potential opportunities this study offers Scottish businesses as a way to maximise their profitability and minimise their waste”, he concluded.

Read the ‘Sector Study on Beer, Whisky and Fish’.

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