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Dishing up a recycling scheme to feed AD plant

Family-owned John Warren, based in County Durham, has launched the Food Fuel initiative, designed to encourage restaurants, shops, hotels and other organisations to separate out food waste for conversion to energy at the Emerald Biogas anaerobic digestion (AD) plant, a subsidiary of Warren.

Warren designed the Food Fuel ‘club’ as a way of recognising and rewarding organisations that recycle food waste, and allowing them to let their own customers know about their efforts to be sustainable.

A choice of gold, silver or bronze membership is available, depending on whether customers sign up for three years, two years or one year, respectively. Gold membership also gives members a personal plaque to display on their premises to show they are part of Food Fuel and inclusion in the Hall of Fame on the website.

In addition to the public recognition, there are also guaranteed savings for members in waste disposal costs. By separating out their food waste, businesses can get rebates for their dry recyclable materials which are no longer contaminated by food waste, as well as reducing the frequency of these collections. Members also gain from certainty in costs – when they sign up to one-, two- or three-year contracts, bin prices are fixed for that period.

Adam Warren, managing director of John Warren and director of Emerald Biogas, explains that the idea for the scheme came in response to increasing press coverage about food waste in the UK and the reducing landfill space available.

He says: “[Food waste] is a valuable resource, and it certainly should not be going into the ground. So it was to publicise that and show all the food producers out there – hotels, restaurants, schools and so on – that they need not just put it into their ordinary waste bin, that they can separate out their food waste, we can collect it and that it also helps with the recycling value of the rest of their waste.”

According to Warren, customers see Food Fuel as a win-win: “When we were speaking to restaurants, we were concerned that owners would not want the chefs to be wasting time, I suppose, separating out the food. A kitchen is a busy place, and we were concerned they would want to put any food waste in just one bin.

“But it has been the opposite – chefs have really bought into the idea. Because they are separating out the waste they can see what they are throwing out, whether they are buying too many vegetables or what have you. They can see what is popular on the menus and what they are left with at the end of the week. So the scheme is saving them money that way, as well as on the recyclates.”

Warren offers a free month’s trial, so no one has to sign up on day one. It has had almost 100% take-up after the trials. “We can go into a kitchen and talk them through the different bins and how many meals they do, we can work out how many bins they need, whether they need a kitchen caddy and so on. During the trial, we go back and visit to make sure they have everything they need and check everything is going to plan,” he explains.

According to Warren, the Food Fuel club, which started in September, has generated interest from customers old and new: “We ran it past a few of our existing customers and they thought it was a great idea. When entering hospitality or sustainability awards, for example – they can say 100% of their food waste is being recycled and it creates electricity. We can work out for them how much electricity they have produced, if it has powered a fridge for a year, for example.

“It is a way of showing that they are doing the right thing with their waste and that they are a forward-thinking company.”

He adds that businesses have not needed much persuasion to sign up. “This scheme is a way of educating people as well. A lot of people didn’t even realise you could recycle your food waste so, once you point out to them that they can and that it is cleaning up their other waste, it really is a no-brainer and saving them money at the same time.”

Obviously the scheme should also increase feedstock for Emerald Biogas, which is currently processing more than 50,000 tonnes of food waste a year. It has planning and permitting to quadruple the size of the plant and, by the end of 2016, hopes to be recycling 100,000 tonnes.   

Gold Scheme Members

The Food Fuel initiative has attracted a range of ‘gold’ members who are positive about the environmental and economic benefits of the scheme. These include:

  • The north-east’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, the Raby Hunt
  • Matfen Hall Hotel and Spa
  • Manor Walks Shopping & Leisure in Cramlington
  • School catering firm Taylor Shaw, which is responsible for the disposal of food waste from 216 primary schools across County Durham

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