Whey to go: Circular pioneers give organic waste new life


East Flanders puts money into three projects turning waste into products with a wide range of uses, from food to flooring

Tipping point

Three projects in East Flanders have been granted funding to continue their work towards a more sustainable economy. The three initiatives create new products from waste that would otherwise be thrown away – turning whey from cheese production, grass cuttings and coffee grounds into oil, soap and building materials.

In the hope of encouraging other producers to look into similar innovations, the province is giving each business €30,000. “With the Circular Chain Project, we want to support cooperation initiatives that can provide leverage for the circular economy in East Flanders,” said Kurt Moens, provincial councillor responsible for the economy. “The approved projects are a good example of this. We are very curious about the results of this first batch.”

Maximum impact

Kaffee Circulair (Circular Coffee) is a joint project created by seven businesses and organisations in Ghent. It collects coffee grounds from businesses and hospitality, which it dries and presses to create oil and a sort of compressed cake. The oil can be used to make soap, while the cake can be used for food applications or as animal feed, soil improver or filler for flooring materials.

“Coffee grounds that end up as residual or organic waste still have a lot of possibilities for circular processing,” a Kaffee Circulair spokesperson said. “In looking for applications for both the pressed cake and oil, we are working with local partners to create a sustainable and financially feasible circular business model with maximum impact. In this way we contribute to making the entire coffee chain circular, from coffee farmer to consumer.”

Coffee grounds that end up as residual waste or organic waste still have a lot of possibilities for circular processing

The Weisoep project in Berlare uses whey – a by-product of cheesemaking that is often thrown away despite having nutritional value. Weisoep is a collaboration between the cheesemaker Zuivelarij and Odisee university college that transforms the liquid into soup. They will use the funding to research the influence of pressure, cooking and acidity on the nutritional value of the soup.

The third recipient of the subsidy is GrasVezel, established by green waste processor Releaf from Drongen and social enterprise Spoor 2 from Hamme. They are researching techniques for using grass cuttings in building materials in place of wood fibres.

“Discussions are under way with parties interested in our sustainable fibres, but they have high demands: the materials must be very dry, but that is not so easy from a technical point of view,” said Sander Lybaert of Releaf. “So we will study drying techniques to process the cuttings. We are happy with the grant. We can use it for research and upscaling. That development is underway, but we think we are at a tipping point and that there is a future in it.”

Photo: Getty Images/Liubomirt