Waste stream development in vegetable supply chains

Hannah Churton, PhD Candidate

How do we avoid wasting up to one third of our food production?

Regional Innovation

Innovation PhD Project: Waste stream development in vegetable supply chains

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PhD Candidate: Hannah Churton

Supervisors: Professor Bernadette McCabe (USQ), A/Prof Ben Lyons (RECoE)

Hannah Churton is jointly funded by RECoE and the Fight Food Waste CRC


In line with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 12.3 (UNGA, 2015), Australia has committed to halving its food waste by 2030 (Commonwealth of Australia, 2017). In accordance with SDG Champions Guidance on interpreting SDG Target 12.3, meeting the target involves either 1) preventing food from leaving the human food supply chain, or 2) where food does leave the human food supply chain, diverting it to high-value destinations through bioprocessing into new products (Hanson, 2017). The fruit and vegetable industry accounts for a significant amount of food waste across the production and supply chain in Australia. Fruit and vegetable wastes contain valuable nutrient components that can be turned into high value products (South Australian Research and Development Institute, 2017). Despite this, fruit and vegetable waste continues to be predominantly diverted to low-value destinations. An industry for high-value products has not significantly developed independently in the economy (ARCADIS, 2019). An examination of comparable countries seeking to meet SDG Target 12.3 indicates that strong governance and robust policy is key to developing a bioprocessing industry (FAO, 2019).

The food waste policy landscape in Australia is complex. There is no clear national vision, nor targeted policy support to advance the bioprocessing industry. The sector is largely governed at state and local government levels with each state having separate and differing legislation and regulatory frameworks addressing food waste management, including strategies for developing the bioprocessing sector. This makes for a complex system of pathways to achieving national food waste commitments. The barriers to diverting food waste to high-value destinations in Australia are not comprehensively understood, and there is limited analysis available on the impact public policy implications have on those barriers or the potential policy drivers that would shift the current landscape in favour of industry development.


This study asks, what governance frameworks would best support Australia to divert fruit and vegetable waste to 'high-value destinations', while optimising its economic, social and environmental food waste objectives? This question will allow the research to:
1. Chart the policy levers that impact the bioprocessing industry in Australia;
2. Chart policies that have assisted comparative countries achieve success in developing a bioprocessing industry and what impact this has had on achieving SDG Target 12.3;
3. Identify the barriers to advancing the bioprocessing industry in Australia;
4. Examine the impact of current and potential policy levers on the bioprocessing industry in the Australian context; and
5. Make recommendations on the policy adjustments that would assist the development of a bioprocessing industry, while simultaneously supporting SDG Target 12.3’s objectives.


This study will be conducted within a constructivism paradigm. Kuhn (1962) defines a research paradigm as a set of common beliefs and agreements shared by researchers regarding how problems should be understood and addressed. Constructivism is an interpretivist paradigm holding that truth is a particular belief system held in a particular context (Healy & Perry, 2000). From a constructivist perspective, people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences (Honebein, 1996). Researching this constructed reality depends on interactions between interviewer and respondent (Guba and Lincoln, 1994).

Within this constructivist paradigm, this study will adopt an ontological position of constructionism. Ontology is the study of being (Crotty, 1998), of assumptions concerned with what constitutes reality (Scotland, 2012). Constructionists view knowledge and truth as created by the interactions of individuals within society rather than discovered by the mind (Schwandt, 2003). Constructionism assumes that there are multiple local and specific socially constructed realities (Healy & Perry, 2000). Epistemologically, the study will adopt a position of pragmatism. Epistemology is the theory of knowledge, of assumptions concerned with how knowledge can be created, acquired and communicated (Cohen et al., 2007). Pragmatism emphasises the value and meaning of research data through an examination of its practical consequences (Morgan, 2014). Pragmatic inquiry emanates from a desire to produce actionable knowledge, to explore the interconnectedness of experience with respondents. Pragmatism is concerned with action and change and the interplay between knowledge and action. This makes it appropriate as a basis for research approaches intervening into the world and not merely observing the world (Goldkuhl, 2012).


This philosophical position calls for a subjective and therefore qualitative research approach. Qualitative research will allow this study research to uncover the depth of experience from stakeholders required to form theory and to broaden the knowledge base available to policy makers (Merriam, 2009). It will also allow the researcher to simultaneously collect and analyse data and refine theory as the project progresses. These qualities are characteristic of a constructivist grounded theory (CGT) methodological approach (Charmaz, 2011). Accordingly, a CGT approach will be adopted for this study. The research approach will comprise of three main stages:

Stage One – data gathering & analysis
Review and analysis of primary and secondary data relating to the policy levers impacting the bioprocessing industry in Australia and comparative experience abroad. An initial hypothesis on the barriers to advancing the bioprocessing industry in Australia, including the policy impacts, will emerge through this initial review.


Stage Two – semi structured interviews
Semi-structured interviews will be used to assess and modify the initial hypothesis on the barriers to advancing the bioprocessing industry. Semi-structured interviews are a qualitative research technique allowing researchers to examine how people learn about and understand their reality (Berg, 2001). This technique is most appropriate as the detailed perspectives and experiences of those bound by the governance frameworks impacting the bioprocessing industry will be central to the research. Purposive, theoretical and snowball sampling techniques will be used. Purposive sampling selects participants based on the contribution they can make to the research, and theoretical sampling entails ongoing recruitment of interviewees, based on emerging hypotheses (Merriam, 2009). The purposive method will be used to ensure a balanced spread of stakeholders’ views are gathered. Interviewees will be asked if they know of others who have similarly applicable expertise, and who may be interested in participating. This approach to locating further relevant participants is referred to as snowball sampling (Berg, 2001).
The intended sample of interviewees will include:
- Primary producers;
- Stakeholders working in the bioprocessing industry; and
- Food waste policy experts.

Stage three – analysis and recommendations
The interview data will be used for two purposes. Firstly, it will be analysed in relation to the Stage One findings to make a final assessment on barriers to advancing the bioprocessing industry. Secondly, it will be used to recommendation policy adjustments that would assist the development of a bioprocessing industry, while simultaneously supporting SDG Target 12.3’s objectives.

Importantly, it is noted that these stages will be carried out through a cyclical process, with each stage informing the others in an iterative process rather than a linear trajectory.