News & Events

Food Canning Waste in Industrial Processes

Author: Dr. Angelia Teo Swee Sen (Lecturer, UCSI University)

In recent times, canned foods play an important role in the diet of most people in both developed and developing countries. At the same time, food canning industries have impacted the environment in terms of water pollution, air pollution and last but not least solid pollution. All these pollutions can be prevented by designing or developing a pollution prevention program.

Canned foods offer nutrition and good quality foods in a convenient form all year long. The food industry and the natural environment have a close connection whereby the supply of raw materials is used to produce canned products. The production of canned food involves a great volume of materials; therefore, the potential impact on the environment is considerable. In the aspect of environmental issues, the organic pollutant loadings are more crucial than toxic substances. Inadequate prevention and control of pollutant loadings might affect the local ecosystems or even its infrastructure. Hence, the technique ‘controlled the product losses with the production’ improves yield and efficiency, at the same time reducing potential waste and pollution problems.

The food processing industry requires a large amount of potable water for a variety of non-consumption usages, such as, for initial cleaning of raw material, fluming, blanching, pasteurizing, cleaning of processing equipment and cooling of finished product. Water usage is identified by quality criteria for different applications; the best quality usage often requiresindependent treatment to assure complete freedom from odour and taste and to ensure uniform conditions. If the processing steps involve a large amount of materials, a great amount of solid waste is potentially introduced. Furthermore, the packaging waste has been the subject of increasing concern, regarding post-consumer phase of a product’s life cycle.

Water pollution

The waste water that is generated in food canning industries contains high quantities of organic material, a high level of biodegradables and variable pH levels. The seasonal plants are likely to contain waste loads comparable to those of populations of 15,000 to 25,000 whereas large plants contain population-equivalent waste load of approximately 250,000 people. When a stream or waterway receives a small input of effluent and large volume of organic waste, the organic waste will utilize the dissolved oxygen in the waterway during the process of stabilizing. Furthermore, it will pollute and degrade the water body by reducing the dissolved oxygen value below that of required by normal aquatic organisms. The level of pollution of wastewater can be characterized according to plant, specific process and raw product characteristics. The processing of fruit and vegetables is one of the examples in the process of wastewater which contain organic matters. Wastewaters from fruit and vegetables canning company causes high levels of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and total solid and suspended solids (TS and SS).

At the same time, the seafood industry also causes the production of wastewater. Waste that is generated from seafood processing contains high loads of organic matters due to the presence of oils, proteins and suspended solids. Moreover, it might also contain high levels of phosphates and nitrates. In the canning phase, the waste is also produced from the spillage of sauces, brines and oil in the can filling process, together with the condensate which was generated during precooking. The waste that is discharged as pollutants in water bodies can cause eutrophication and oxygen depletion. According to Asian Institute of Techonology, the oil-containing wastewater have been known to pollute nearby beaches and shores and the floating oil waste on water surface will eventually land on the surrounding coastline.

Air pollution

In certain branches of the food industry, processing activities are also associated with potential air emissions and odour control problems. Air pollution caused by the food industry generally revolves around the question of objectionable odours rather than toxic air emissions, with a few exceptions. Leakage of ammonia from the food industries which leaks from refrigeration units isone of the major health concerns. Ammonia is a severe eye and respiratory irritant. A major leak into the environment could require evacuation of local residents. This happened in 1992 at a meat packing plant, 1986 in a packing plant slaughterhouse and etc. According to Environmental protection Agency, US, concentration above 100ppm is uncomfortable to most people and concentrations in the range 300 to 500ppm will require the evacuation of peoplefrom that area immediately. Industries such as sugar-cane refining, which use sulphuric acid and other acids, may release sulphur oxides and other contaminants into the atmosphere.

In vegetable canning industry, the main reason for air pollution is due to accidental gas leakages in refrigeration circuits (ammonia and CFCs). For example, in February 2013, two people suffered serious irritation after inhaling ammonia gas at a fish meal factory at Harakala. The leakage of CFC destroys the ozone layer. Direct emissions due to combustion in boilers or indirect emissions caused by the usage of electrical energy, contributes to the greenhouse effect and acid rain with increasing CO2. Cross-border problems could arisedue to the location of these industries and contribution to problems at local level due to the presence of toxic pollutants.

For seafood industry, the major air pollution sources are from combustion sources like boiler and generator for electric power, where the boiler is used for steam supply during pre-cooking and sterilization process whereas the fuels used in the boiler are electricity, fuel oil, coal and LPG. The common air emissions from seaweed processing are volatile organic compound (VOC), ammonia, sulfur dioxide, etc. The most significant form of air pollution from seafood industry is the odour during the fish processing. The main sources of odour includes storage sites for processing waste, cooking by-products during fish meal production, fish drying processes, and odor emitted during filing and empting of bulk tanks and silos. When the fish is in anaerobic condition, it will undergo deterioration. This deterioration causes the formation of odorous compounds such as ammonia, mercaptans, and hydrogen sulphide gas.

Solid waste

Solid waste is usually generated at stages of raw material washing, grading, peeling and slicing. The mixing of solid waste with wastewater flows which happens during the process causes difficulty in collection and treatment process. Solid organic waste is reduced to a minimum level in order to adequate levels of efficiency in the production process because waste also indicates a loss of product.

For vegetable and fruit industry, processors have strived to maintain long product shelf life and nice appearance. In order to obtain high quality product, the industry has therefore employed a high wastage factor. A high percentage of the raw products is lost prior to processing.

Examples of solid waste from the vegetable processing industry are lettuce and cabbage leaves, carrot tops, celery leaf and butts, yellow and decayed spinach leaves, broccoli and cauliflower stems and leaves, corn husks and cobs unusable turnips, parsnips Brussels sprouts, radishes, onion peels and other green leaf product wastes. For large multi-vegetable processing company, waste cutting and trimmings are almost 30% by weight of the raw product stream. Solid wastes were usually dry swept or mechanically conveyed to a dump truck or storage area outside of the facility. It may also be washed down through floor drains and eventually causes organic and solid loadings of the wastewater.

For seafood industry, solid waste usually consists of fish shells and fish head from the processing stage. Furthermore, only 25-50% of the raw material is utilized for primary production while the remaining 50-75% of raw materials is considered as waste. The waste is either further utilized for low-valued products or disposed. Large amount of wastes and by-products are potentially being generated from inedible fish and endoskeleton shell parts from the crustacean peeling process. Waste production is highly dependent according to various species and processes which were employed.

Developing a pollution prevention program

The food processing industrial holds the responsibility to minimize environmental impacts and utilize natural resources efficiently in developing food products and the selection of food systems. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) makes the evaluation of the environment impact of a product through its entire life cycle possible. According to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), LCA processes consisted of four stages:

- Goal and scope definition, in which the intended application as well as the extent of the study has to be clearly exposed

- Inventory analysis (Life Cycle Inventory), where information about the product system is gathered and relevant inputs and outputs are quantified

- Impact assessment (Life Cycle Impact Assessment), which concerts the flows from the inventory into simpler indicators related to the potential impacts associated

- Interpretation of the results, where the findings of the two previous steps are combined and evaluated to meet the previously defined goals of the study

Implementing pollution prevention projects is necessary before the business operates. The major steps in a pollution prevention program include establishing and organizing the pollution prevention program, performing the environmental review, defining pollution prevention options and implementing prevention options. The first step of the program is establishing the pollution prevention program whereby it is necessary to get full management commitment. Once the management commitment is established,a policy statement and consensus will be developed. The second step is organizing the program. In this step, the company needs to name the pollution prevention team, states specific program goals and determines budget and schedule. Those involved in this step are mainly plant process engineers, environmental engineers, production supervisors, etc. The third step is performingan environmental review. This stage is crucial, as it establishes benchmark data based on industry performance in general, regulatory standards or best available technology. The fourth step is identifying pollution prevention options. In this step, pollution prevention options may come from the review process or after the review process is completed. Pollution prevention options are arranged in a particular order; source reduction, on-site reuse and recycling, off site reuse and recycling, material and energy recovery, and residual waste management. The fifth step is evaluating pollution prevention options. This step is necessary in order to determine which options should be chosen. Option which able to reduce pollution, and have no cost or risk, can be implemented immediately. For examples, a low cost option which reduce pollution include improving operation and maintenance procedures, improving housekeeping practices, improving inventory control and implementing flow or material segregation. The last step is implementing pollution prevention projects. At this point of the program, the pollution prevention projects are enforced and funded. After the project is actualized, initial, and continuous assessment of the effectiveness of the project is necessary.

In Malaysia, any company that is proposing a new development project will need to carry out a number of procedures to evaluate the project’s effect on the environment before implementation. The first procedure is to complete the environmental impact assessment (EIA). The project proponent must prepare an EIA report in accordance with the stipulated procedures, submit it to the Director General of the Department of Environment (DOE) and obtain approval. As a conclusion, food canning industries are supposed to design their canning factory according to the law and guidelines stated by the government. Failure to follow such guidelines not only will bring negative impacts to the environment and it might also bring out issues related to citizen health.

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