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In Brazil, cafeteria waste once destined for landfills now helps grow more food 

April 22, 2019

With approximately 300 employees at Cargill’s facility in Ilhéus, Brazil, the cafeteria is a busy place during lunch. Feeding the workforce results in food scraps and other organic waste that used to be hauled away to landfills, along with ash from the plant’s boiler.

Now the end of lunchtime marks the beginning of a program that helps eliminate waste, improve soil, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support locals farmers. 

The Adubo Sustentavel Project, or the Sustainable Fertilizer Project, was created by a team of employees from the Environmental, Health and Safety team, with financial support from the Brazil Cargill Foundation. It has three main objectives: repurpose the organic waste generated in the plant, minimize the environmental impact of the facility and help improve the livelihoods of local farmers.

Instead of going to landfills, food waste and ash from the facility is now sent to a nearby compost plant where it’s turned into organic fertilizer. Farmers then use the fertilizer to enrich the soil, relieving much of the need for chemical additives. To complete the circle, Cargill buys back food from the local farmers to serve in the plant’s cafeteria.

“Farmers now spend a tenth of what they once did on fertilizers, and we have the benefit of delicious, locally grown food in our cafeteria,” said Fulvio Albuquerque, plant manager. 

The program, supported by the Brazil Cargill Foundation, currently benefits more than 200 local farm families. Cargill is looking recreate the system in other locations.

A global challenge

Almost a third of all of the food grown to feed the world each year is wasted. The impact of that waste on the climate is significant. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, if food waste were a country, it would come in third after the United States and China in terms of impact on global warming.

Food waste varies regionally in important ways. In high-income countries, most food waste occurs in markets and people’s homes. In low-income countries food is rarely wasted at home. In these regions most food is lost in the field, in storage or during transport, long before it ever reaches consumers. 

Reducing food waste is among Cargill’s sustainability priorities. The company is using its supply chain expertise to make improvements at multiple touchpoints across the global food system.