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Waste Not
Nestlé, Cargill, CCm Upcycling Cocoa Shells into Low-Carbon Fertilizer

As part of Nestlé’s bid to source 50% of its key ingredients from regenerative-ag methods by 2030, the three are turning the waste steam into a win-win, circular solution for food companies and farmers alike.

This week, Nestlé UK & Ireland and Cargill launched their latest regenerative-agriculture initiative — to assess whether cocoa shells from a confectionery site in York could be used to create a low-carbon fertilizer.

The two-year trial across the companies’ UK supply chains will evaluate the new fertilizer’s performance on crop production, soil health and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction. If successful, up to 7,000 tonnes of low-carbon fertilizer could be produced and offered to farmers in Nestlé’s UK wheat supply chain — which would equate to roughly 25 percent of Nestlé UK’s total fertilizer use for wheat.

The production and use of conventional fertilizer accounts for approximately 5 percent of global GHG emissions; and more than half of the carbon footprint of wheat grown in the UK is related to fertilizer use.

More and more companies are seizing the opportunity to upcycle agricultural waste streams into value-added products — into everything from building materials and bioplastic products and packaging to textiles, wastewater filters and clean energy sources — creating lower-emissions supply chains and often creating cost savings or even new revenue streams for farmers. Scaling up low-carbon fertilizer production in the UK can provide farmers with a more sustainable product at a reliable price.

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“Farmers often find themselves to be among the first groups to be exposed to global issues, and these risks are then borne by the food system we all depend upon. We have to find ways to build more resilience into the system and optimising our use of natural resources is a critical part of this,” said Matt Ryan, Regeneration Lead at Nestle UK & Ireland. “This project is a small, but very meaningful step towards a net-zero future — where farmers, local enterprises and nature all stand to benefit.”

The cocoa shells are supplied by Cargill, which processes the cocoa at the York facility to become key ingredients in products for Nestlé’s KitKat and Aero brands. A trial volume of cocoa shell has been processed and pelletized by Swindon-based carbon-capture and -utilization company CCm Technologies.

“Moving to a more sustainable world involves creating partnerships that think about waste differently,” said CCm CEO Pawel Kisielewski. “CCm’s technology enables many of the biggest players across agriculture and the food sector to give waste generated from routine food manufacturing a second lease of life as valuable low-emission sustainable fertilizer. This benefits farmer, customer and planet.”

The trials, which were designed and are being overseen by York-based Fera Science Ltd, are currently taking place on arable farms in Suffolk and Northamptonshire. They are designed to investigate the performance of the fertilizer in terms of wheat yield and quality. They will also assess the impacts on soil biodiversity and GHG emissions in comparison to conventional products applied on the same farms.

Richard Ling, Farm Manager at Rookery Farm, Wortham in Norfolk — who supplies wheat to Nestlé’s Purina brand — said: “We have now finished harvesting and we’ve successfully grown a winter wheat crop using this new fertilizer. We’ve compared two parts of the field — one which used the cocoa shell fertilizer, and one which used with the conventional fertilizer — and there is no significant difference in the yield; so we can see that it works! We are really reassured with the results and are looking at running further trials.

“It’s a step change to be able to use a fertilizer made from a waste stream and see the same results as using a conventional product,” Ling added. "It’s an exciting and promising time, and we are pleased to be taking part in these trials to help reduce the carbon emissions from our farming.”

Nestlé’s focus on regenerative agriculture is underpinned by its work with the Landscape Enterprise Networks (LENs) — an independent trading community that connects businesses with a common interest to protect and restore the environment in which they operate.

The UK cocoa fertilizer pilot is an example of the solutions that Nestlé is investigating to help achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, and its commitment to sourcing 50 percent of its key ingredients from regenerative agricultural methods by 2030. In its US wheat supply chain, for example, Nestlé recently launched an initiative to help farmers adopt regenerative practices on over 100,000 acres of farmland — nearly double the number of acres needed to grow the amount of wheat used in its DIGIORNO brand pizza crusts.