Towards zero pollution in the Mediterranean agri-food: fiction or reality?

The Interreg MED Green Growth Community (GGC) partner event in the EU Green Week gave an overview of the outcomes achieved by the Community projects PEFMED, REINWASTE and RE-LIVE WASTE to reduce pollution in the agri-food sector. Participants could apply their knowledge and the lessons learnt from the GGC projects in the second part of the event through an interactive exercise analysing the whole value chain of cheese production.

The GGC partner event in the EU Green Week organized by the Community partner ERRIN took place online the 1st of June. The webinar showcased the results tested by the GGC projects PEFMED, REINWASTE and RE-LIVE WASTE to make the agri-food value chain more sustainable by applying circular economy approaches with a focus in the Mediterranean.

Fotini Salta – Federation of Hellenic Food Industries – represented PEFMED project explaining how their results can help ensuring a low product environmental footprint with the PEF method. “The PEF method is a very powerful diagnostic tool which can help to increase the products environmental performance”, explained Salta. However, she also highlighted the challenges in the application of this method such as its difficulty and time consumption – in particular for SMEs. For that reason, one of the main project recommendations is to encourage political support in the methods application because – as the results show –, it can lower the sector’s environmental and socioeconomic impacts and improve the companies’ response to consumers’ needs.

On his side, María Antonia Cobacho – Andalusian Agency for Agriculture and Fisheries Development – highlighted the REINWASTE project’s outcomes. The REINWASTE project tested solutions to fight inorganic waste in three sectors in different Mediterranean regions: the horticulture sector in Andalusia (Spain); the meat sector in Sud-Provence Alpes-Côte d’Azur (France); and in the dairy sector in Emilia Romagna (Italy). Cobacho underlined the need to invest more in R&D to develop sustainable materials with better performance than the available ones and with lower prices. “There is quite high predisposition to implement innovative alternatives in the sector but not that much knowledge on the alternatives available”, Cobacho affirmed.

Focusing on the last step of the value chain, Maria G. Antoniou – Cyprus University of Technology –exposed to the audience the best practices tested by the RE-LIVE WASTE project to turn livestock waste into a valuable product. According to Antoniou, the project results show that the struvite precipitation method was proved to be “a sustainable solution for mitigating of soil acidification, greenhouse gases emissions, and pollution of surface and groundwater” coming from intensive cattle and pig livestock farming. The RE-LIVE WASTE outcomes open new market opportunities in the European Union on biofertilizers.

After the GGC projects outcomes presentations, the attendees applied their knowledge and lessons learnt in an interactive exercise on Mura using Circulab value chain canva. The audience analysed the whole value chain of hard cheese from cow milk from a circular economy perspective including on each of the eight phases of the chain the sustainable steps and the key resources needed. The exercise was an opportunity for the attendees to test their understanding of the whole process of the agri-food value chain through a specific example.

The event was framed in the EU Green Week 2021 that delved into ‘Zero pollution for healthier people and the planet’, following zero pollution action plan presented by the European Commission last May. Globally, the agri-food sector accounts for 18% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. And the food system as a whole – including refrigeration, food processing, packaging, and transport – accounts for around 25% of GHG emissions. In the European Union The Farm to Fork Strategy has paved the way for more sustainable and environment-friendly food systems. However, the solutions to achieve zero pollution in the agri-food sector need to be developed and implemented locally.

In the Mediterranean region, the agri-food sector is one of the main economic sectors and agriculture represents an average of 10 to 25% of trade for several Mediterranean countries. Moving towards more sustainable food value chains is basic to achieve zero pollution targets and to mitigate climate change in the region. The GGC works throughout all its four focus areas to boost the transition towards circular economy for a more sustainable Euro-Mediterranean region. The agri-food sector is one of the key sectors to achieve that goal and is therefore one of the Community’s main focuses.