Rendering is essential in producing sustainable animal feed ingredients and pet food as well as many nonfood products consumers use every day playing a vital role in environmental sustainability worldwide. This article highlights show Rendering is highly sustainable; “Rendering is Recycling/Upcycling” and supports the three pillars of sustainability: Environmental, Social, Economic.
Agricultural Rendering will be referred to as “rendering” throughout this article. Render, from the French verb rendre, meaning “to give back,” is the act of processing and cooking undesired, or uneaten livestock and poultry meat that remains after a meat animal has been slaughtered and the meat used for consumption has been harvested. Rendering then safely and hygienically processes it to create new products so nothing is wasted. Renderers upcycle that unused material (fat, protein, feathers, bone, etc.) for new, secondary uses.
Many meat eaters in North America consider roughly 50% of a meat animal to be “inedible,” leaving a large amount of material left over (NARA, 2020). Rendering reclaims this otherwise wasted food (protein, bone, fat, etc.), as well as used cooking oil (UCO) from restaurants, and transforms it into ingredients for countless new goods-upcycling most of this unwanted meat from slaughter and processing into things like animal feed ingredients, safe and nutritious pet food, beauty, household and industrial products, biofuels, and many more useful and common goods.
Instead of wasting these leftovers through other disposal methods, renderers in the United States and Canada recycle the materials into 15.7 million tons of fat, oil, and protein products annually (NARA, 2020). Doing this not only creates alternative, sustainable fuels to power trucks, trains, water vessels, and other vehicles but also nutritiously feeds cattle, hogs, turkeys, chickens, household pets, and other animals.
As a result, huge volumes of meat leftovers and UCO are kept out of landfills, resulting in a net reduction of carbon emissions, a substantial greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction, reduced food waste and saved landfill space. In addition, Renderers have quality and safety control systems in place with voluntary programs such as the Rendering Industry Code of Practice (NARA, 2017) designed to foresee hazards that could occur, and prevent them.
A sustainable contribution
The sustainability benefits of rendering can be accurately tracked and are more highly valued as our environment faces threats of climate change and reduced landfill space. Additionally, consumers seem ever more aware of their sustainability practices when making purchases due to this information and education on sustainability being widely available across media platforms.
Rendering reduces the environmental impacts of animal agriculture by sequestering five times more GHGs than are produced (Gooding and Meeker, 2016). By reclaiming otherwise discarded meat leftovers, renderers make our food production footprint smaller (Figure 1). Specific areas of rendering’s sustainable contributions include reduced food waste, water reclamation, and sustainable pet food.
Reduced food waste
Sixty-two billion pounds of raw materials are cooked and rendered to result in approximately 31.4 billion pounds of rendered products produced annually from in the United States and Canada. As a result, these huge volumes of meat leftovers and UCO are kept out of landfills, resulting in a net reduction of carbon emissions (NARA, 2020).
Renderers pick up UCO from restaurants which helps reduce food waste from that sector, but plate waste is not well utilized because of lack of infrastructure and the high cost of logistics to collect and cook waste food for animal feed; additionally, no system exists to collect either UCO or other food waste from households.
Grocery store leftovers would also be a contributor to food waste, but because renderers pick up those meat leftovers (in the form of trimmings, fat and bone) from butcher shops, grocers, and small slaughtering operations, grocery store waste has a much smaller footprint.
Renderers also recycle billions of pounds of UCO from restaurants used to cook fried food items like French fries, and transforms that oil and fat into biodiesel, renewable diesel, and ingredients for pet food and animal feed.
Rendering reclaims and cleans valuable water that would otherwise contribute to the decay of byproducts and cause contamination in the environment. The rendering process evaporates the moisture from the raw materials and processes all runoff and wash water though water treatment that meets regulatory standards.
Annually, 3.7 billion gallons of water are reclaimed during the rendering process and naturally released back into the environment through evaporation or returned as clean water to streams and rivers (NARA, 2020)— that is enough water to fill 5,604 Olympic swimming pools.
Sustainable pet food
Protein and fat ingredients obtained from rendering are used to manufacture pet foods. These rendered ingredients are not only sustainable, but also safe due to the enforcement of strict safety guidelines including the use of high heat in the rendering process to destroy bacteria and harmful pathogens. The resulting products are also handled, stored, and distributed under controlled conditions to minimize contamination.
All rendering plants are required to be in compliance with FDA’s animal food regulations under Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA),, which ensures safe processing occurs.
The rendering industry adds value to animal parts not normally used for human consumption (organs, bones, cartilage, and fat) by processing this material for pet food ingredients.
Use of rendered products in pet food also significantly reduces the carbon footprint of the food we feed our dogs, cats, and other pets by repurposing byproducts that might otherwise be wasted (Meeker and Meisinger, 2015).
Supporting the Three Pillars of Sustainability
Rendering also represents all three pillars of sustainability—Environmental, Economic, and Social. These three pillars are sometimes depicted visually as architectural pillars and other times as a three circle Venn diagram. The concept of sustainability has been discussed publicly as early as the 1980s and the three pillars have been presented as a “common view” of sustainable development in media since as early as 2001 (2019; Figure 2).
Pillar 1: Environmental
Rendering’s environmental support pillar is a strong one. More than 62 billion pounds of renderable materials are produced in the United States and Canada each year. By reclaiming otherwise discarded meat leftovers, renderers make our food production footprint smaller, save landfill space, and help minimize the environmental impacts of animal agriculture such as climate change, as rendering assists greatly in the reduction of food waste, reduced GHG and water consumption. Rendering reclaims and protects valuable water that would otherwise be wasted or contaminated.
Pillar 2: Social
By reclaiming and converting animal leftovers and UCO into new products, rendering helps customers to be more sustainable while providing thousands of full-time and stable jobs supporting families and local communities from coast to coast in America and Canada, many in rural areas. Adding to the stability of work in the rendering industry, these positions cannot be exported due to the raw and perishable nature of the material the rendering industry reclaims.
Renderers and plant owners also invest considerably in improvements and enhancements to sustainability efforts, in addition to supporting their local communities both financially and socially (NARA, 2020).
Pillar 3: Economic
There is some expected overlap in the Social and Economic pillars in reference to the rendering industry as the economic stability of the industry directly affects the stability of careers, therefore leading to rendering’s high job retention and financial ability to contribute to their communities.
The rendering industry is sustainable and financially stable with an economic contribution of US $10 billion, annually. An average rendering plant provides nearly 100 stable jobs that offer competitive pay and benefits (NARA, 2020).
Renderers play an important role in reducing food waste, sustainably recycling valuable agricultural resources and positively contributing to local, state, national, and international economies. Quantification data were collected by the North American Renderers Association and published in 2020 (NARA, 2020).
This research consisted of understanding the total supply of renderable products, estimates of total rendered products, conducting a three-part survey of rendering companies in the United States and Canada, and studying consumer and industry-driven market trends. Highlights from the research are outlined below:
✓ More than 62 billion pounds of renderable raw materials are produced in the United States and Canada each year from farms, feedlots, and slaughter facilities working with cattle, hogs, sheep, chickens, and turkey. These materials are highly perishable byproducts of meat and poultry produced for human consumption—offal, bones, blood, feathers, and animals that die on farms or in transit to slaughterhouses.
✓ Approximately 15.7 million tons of rendered products are produced from beef, pork, turkey, and broiler processing plants annually. This is 57% protein meals, 40% fats, and 3% plasma meal.
✓ Approximately, 289,037 tons of animal and poultry fats, and 501,413 tons of fresh and frozen meat and poultry byproducts and organ meats that come from a combination of direct slaughter and rendering plants are used by pet food manufacturers, and roughly 1,543,129 tons of rendered protein meal from byproducts of meat, poultry, and fish are included in pet food diets.
✓ Survey respondents report they reclaimed and repurposed approximately 800,000 tons of UCO in the 1-year study period, which represents about half of all UCO. Repurposing a large amount of this material averts what would otherwise go to other less-sustainable destinations.
Renderers are substantial employers who offer competitive benefits to their employees, including paid time off, contributions to 401(k) (and other retirement funds that help ensure their employees are taken care in retirement), paid health insurance premiums, disability insurance, and education assistance for job-related skills and certificates.
In addition to upcycling materials that would otherwise end up in landfills, renderers are investing millions of dollars in environmental improvement efforts resulting in a total of US$ 165.5 million spent on all environmental improvement efforts over the last 5 years (2015 to 2019) and US$ 188 million planned to be spent on all environmental improvement efforts over the next 5 years (2020 to 2024).
The rendering industry is dynamic and ever changing. New focus and initiatives continue to occur in the areas of environmental issues, governmental regulations, raw material, and market conditions.
Looking ahead the rendering industry has these large-scale issues to keep in mind, as well as more focused key items to consider as it prepares for the future. The rendering industry and markets for rendered products should expand to match the predicted growth of meat production and services needed by a growing U.S. and Canadian population.
Continued investments in research such as that by the Fats and Proteins Research Foundation (FPRF) are also needed to fund research that can enhance product safety, improve rendering efficiency, support use in animal nutrition, and find new uses and markets for these byproducts.
The rendering business is profitable and sustainable. It is also essential to making a meat animal more sustainable than it would be if byproducts were not rendered and used for the highest possible purpose.
By making numerous new products with the unused meat and byproducts derived from livestock, rendering and renderers provide local jobs, support their communities, and contribute to significantly reduced food waste, saved landfill space, reduced GHG emissions, production of nutritious and sustainable animal food, and clean water reclamation.
References and sources consulted by the author on the elaboration of this article are available under previous request to our editorial staff.
This is a summarized version developed by the editorial team of Aquaculture Magazine based on the review article titled “HOW AGRICULTURAL RENDERING SUPPORTS SUSTAINABILITY AND ASSISTS LIVESTOCK’S ABILITY TO CONTRIBUTE MORE THAN JUST FOOD” developed by: ANNA D. WILKINSON AND DAVID L. MEEKER – North American Renderers Association (NARA), Alexandria, VA, USA. The original article was published, including tables and figures, on MARCH, 2021, through ANIMAL FRONTIERS.
The full version can be accessed online through this link: 10.1093/af/vfab002.