Zero waste: when a Portuguese company turns leftover fish into dog biscuits


The Portuguese capital Lisbon will host the next UN Ocean Conference at the end of June.

It is also in Lisbon that Sancho Pancho, a company created by the Russian Daria Demidenko, who has been living in Portugal since 2015, operates. His discovery: transforming leftover fresh fish into treats for dogs.

Ms. Demidenko started her business by partnering with a Japanese restaurant and fish markets in Lisbon. For example, it uses the leftovers in the production of high-end sushi and sashimi.

Fight against food waste

Every day, pounds and pounds of fish heads, bones and skins end up in the trash. Ms. Demidenko has revolutionized the approach to this food waste by partnering with Sekai Sushi Bar, a Japanese restaurant in the central district of Santos.

The restaurant receives around ten kilos of salmon, tuna and white fish daily. Sushi manager Sunil Basnet quickly cleans and prepares these fish, including prime cuts like this three-kilo corvina caught off the Portuguese coast.

Restaurant owner Edilson Neves explains to UN News that on average, 30% of every fish cooked in a restaurant ends up in the trash. “There’s the backbone, part of the tail, the edges, the sides, the part that connects to the stomach… The parts of the fish that are tougher too, that have more fiber, and then the skin… This 30 to 40% that would be wasted, we manage to reuse it thanks to Sancho Pancho”.

healthy snacks

The name of Ms. Demidenko’s company alludes to the character of Sancho Panza, taken from the famous novel by Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote. It is also a personal tribute to one of his dogs, named Pancho.

“These cookies are made with a type of white fish that we cook and then mash, so the bones have a much smoother texture,” she explains, pointing to a packet of cookies. “We crush this preparation before mixing it with flour to obtain the famous biscuit”.

Other types of waste, such as salmon skins, can be reused through a drying process. “We place them in this machine for twenty hours at a temperature of 70˚C. They come out dry, crispy, and we cut them into pieces to make small salmon skin crisps. »

Pioneering Scandinavian countries

In addition to collecting leftovers at the Sekai restaurant, Daria has partnerships with other restaurants and fish markets in Lisbon, and collects around 25 kilos of leftovers per week. His initiative was hailed by Márcio Castro de Souza, the fisheries expert for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), based in Rome.

“This is a very interesting fishing waste reduction initiative, which can be applied on a small scale as well as on an industrial scale,” he said. “Several salmon-producing industries in Scandinavian countries are already achieving 100% fish utilization. Nothing remains. They cut the nets, use the eyes to make fertilizer or to generate essential oils… There is already a whole production focused on zero waste”.

Other initiatives around the world include the use of fish skins in the leather goods sector, fish scales in the manufacture of lipstick, or the use of squid ink to color dishes such as pasta.

Educate consumers

Salmon skin snacks are rich in omega 3, an oil that helps maintain healthy skin and coat in pets like dogs and cats.

In addition to reusing leftover fish, Daria Demidenko’s brand produces cookies from leftover dehydrated rabbit and pork meat.

The creator of Sancho Pancho claims to have already succeeded in raising customers’ awareness of the problems caused by food waste: “some customers tell us they learn from us. They now buy more locally, in fishmongers and butchers in their neighborhood, and now bring some unused parts of the animal home, to make food for their dogs, their cats or for themselves”.

Halving global food waste by 2030 is the fourteenth of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Goal 14 also involves the sustainable management of marine life. Saving the oceans and protecting the future is the motto of the United Nations Ocean Conference, which will take place in Lisbon from June 27 to July 1.

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