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Rendering is Recycling

Written by: Guest   |   November 1, 2021

Guest perspective, Environmental footprint, Ingredients

By: Anna Wilkinson, director of communications, North American Renderers Association

As the director of communications for the North American Renderers Association (NARA), I’ve had the opportunity to spread the word about rendering’s enormous sustainability benefits and how our industry assists many others by producing countless new goods made with rendered material – proving that rendering really is (in the literal definition of the term) recycling.

Having come to this industry three years ago with a background in single-stream recycling, sustainability education and branding, the climate-smart and environmentally sustainable benefits of rendering were deeply compelling. I was surprised to learn that although the act of upcycling materials by rendering them had been in practice for hundreds of years, starting with the rendering of fats for soap and candle making, these messages were widely unknown to those outside the rendering and related industries. So, I was eager to talk to the public on our role in reduced food waste and environmental support by telling rendering’s important sustainability story. 

In a recently published peer-reviewed article that I wrote with co-author David Meeker, Ph.D., NARA’s senior vice president of scientific services, we cite recent data to explore how agricultural rendering supports sustainability and assists livestock’s ability to contribute more than just food. We also demonstrate how rendering supports the three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social and economic.

Many people in North America consider roughly 50% of a meat animal to be inedible, leaving a lot of leftover material. Instead of going to waste, rendering reclaims that meat, bone, fat, etc. and transforms it into ingredients for countless products - many that we use every day - upcycling 99% of this “meat we don’t eat.”

Recycling these otherwise wasted byproducts helps to minimize and offset the environmental impacts of animal agriculture – shrinking our food production footprint. Rendering reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 72% and fossil fuel use by 80% (when compared to petroleum diesel) and avoids at least 90% of the potential GHG emissions compared with industrial composting. In fact, rendering is the GHG reduction equivalent of removing 18.5 million cars off the road each year.

By rendering, instead of disposing of this material, we also save precious landfill space. (Believe it or not, without rendering all available landfill space would be full in four short years!) Rendering also returns clean water to the environment. Billions of gallons of water are reclaimed during the rendering process, and it meets or exceeds federal, state and local safety standards when it is restored back to rivers and streams.

Rendering also demonstrates respect and resourcefulness for the livestock raised with care by farmers by ensuring we utilize the entire animal – so nothing goes to waste. This is of great ethical importance to me personally and many others who choose to eat meat.

In addition to the reduction of food waste that comes from rendering grocery store leftovers and used cooking oil (UCO) from restaurants (both of which would be substantial contributors to food waste were it not for rendering), renderers actually feed and grow the next generation of food by “recycling” that unwanted meat and using the rendered material for animal feed and fertilizer to cultivate the next generation of food. This act of recycling is, in its truest form, quite literally perpetuating the agricultural “circle of life.”

While using rendered fat and UCO to make biofuels, and rendered protein meals to produce safe, nutritious animal feed (and pet food) are important applications, it’s a surprise for many to learn how often we use products made with rendered material in our everyday lives.

Rendered fat alone is used to produce a multitude of non-food and non-animal feed applications, such as candles, detergents, fabric softener, deodorant, shaving cream, perfume, crayons, paint, lubricant, plastics, waterproofing materials, cement, ceramics, chalk, matches, antifreeze, insulation, linoleum, textiles, soap and rubber items like tires.

Gel bone (made from rendered bone chips) is often used in gel caps for vitamins, supplements and medicines; hides can be utilized to produce sheetrock, adhesives and medicines; and animal hair can be used for air filters, brushes, felt, insulation, plaster and textiles.

Rendering also helps customers and consumers feel confident they’re making a sustainable choice when they purchase these items made with upcycled rendered material.

With all these environmental benefits, it’s easy to see why rendering plays such an important role in reducing food waste, increasing the sustainability of animal agriculture, and supporting sustainability’s environmental pillar. 

However, the rendering industry also supports sustainability’s social and economic pillars.

Rendering is a financially sound and community-focused industry with an economic contribution of $10 billion annually that provides thousands of full-time jobs supporting families and communities in the United States and Canada. An average rendering plant provides nearly 100 stable jobs with competitive pay and benefits. And due to the raw and perishable nature of the material reclaimed by the rendering industry, these jobs can’t be exported - meaning these are local jobs that will stay in local communities.

As we look ahead to an ever more sustainable future ushered in by populations who are increasingly environmentally and socially aware, it is my hope that rendering’s compelling sustainability story will continue to be an important part of the growing reduced waste and climate-smart conversation.

To learn more about rendering, visit www.nara.org.

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