Sweden: Study shows opportunities in bread upcycling

Large amounts of bread are wasted every year and are at most used for biogas production, with opportunities to reuse bread, according to Sweden’s first quantitative study, undertaken by Pedro Brancoli. The research in the field of Resource Recovery is part of his Ph.D. studies at the University of Borås. The results of Brancoli’s doctoral project show that it would be beneficial for bread waste to be transformed into new food and other products, both from an environmental and economic standpoint.

Bread in particular has been a neglected food item in the research literature on food waste, the study found. The overall goal of the project was to design and evaluate measures to reduce bread waste, especially in bakeries and large grocery stores, the University of Borås announced, quoting the author: “We have made calculations of the amount of bread waste, analyzed the reasons behind it, and suggested solutions. Then we evaluated this in relation to potential environmental savings.”

The project initially examined food waste in general at large grocery stores to understand which products were most often discarded and to estimate its impact on the environment. It showed that bread waste in particular accounts for a significant burden on the environment, even though it had previously not been considered a significant source of waste. The discovery led to a collaboration with bread bakeries and retailers to look at bread waste at the national level and to find methods to prevent it, or to recycle it as a raw material to produce something else.

“We could establish that large amounts of bread are wasted in Sweden. To be more precise, 80,000 tonnes per year, or about 8 kg per person and year. The current bread distribution system also proved to be a significant source of bread waste. But we were also able to show that the bread that is wasted actually has a significant value,” Brancoli explained.

A perspective for the future

The most important thing, he outlined, should always be to prevent bread waste from occurring from the beginning by identifying risks and developing effective strategies. Bread waste can be used in several ways, including as a raw material to produce ethanol, animal feed, beer, or as a substrate to grow a protein-rich fungus, which can be used as food. “These alternatives have great potential to reduce the environmental impact in terms of the bread life cycle,” he said.

The research highlights that bread can very well be part of a circular supply chain, with increased cooperation throughout the supply chain. The next step in the research is to implement the measures proposed in the dissertation for grocery stores and bakeries and to investigate food waste in other parts of the supply chain in Sweden and internationally.

The Ph.D. thesis is titled: “Prevention and valorization of surplus bread at the supplier-retailer interface”. It was presented on December 3, 2021, at the University of Borås, and prepared under the supervision of Professor Kim Bolton, University of Borås.