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Food for thought

Food and drink manufacturing businesses use significant quantities of resources such as raw materials, energy and water. Using these resources more efficiently, managing waste better, implementing sustainable cleaning and hygiene processes and diverting waste from landfill enables manufacturers to reduce costs and decrease environmental damage.

Waste comes in many different forms including packaging, ingredient waste, energy inefficiency, product write offs and hazardous waste. Management of this waste is a major issue for the Government and for food manufacturers across the country.

Food Waste

Food waste is one area where there is a key Government focus on reduction and investment in new technologies to manage waste. According to the Waste & Resource Action Programme, (WRAP) in the UK, the grocery supply chain wastes of food and drink worth an estimated £5bn per year.


Around 10.8 million tonnes of packaging is used in the UK. Businesses that place packaged goods on the market must comply with the Packaging Essential Requirements Regulations which require them to minimise the packaging used, ensure packaging can be reused or recycled and packaging does not contain significant levels of heavy metals. Under the Courtauld Commitment, a responsibility agreement to improve resources in the grocery sector, targets have been set to reduce the weight, increase recycling rates and increase the recycled content of all grocery packaging.


New amendments to the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011 came into force at the end of September whereby organisations now have to adhere to a new ‘waste hierarchy’ to help improve waste prevention, reuse and recycling rates.

The hierarchy sets out the options for managing waste that should be considered prior to disposal. In order of priority, these are preventing waste, preparation for reuse, recycling, other recovery such as energy recovery and last of all disposal.  Under the regulations, businesses have to document in writing that they have applied the waste hierarchy when transferring their waste through a declaration on waste transfer/consignment notes. When waste is passed on, the waste producer will need to declare that they have applied the waste management hierarchy.

Companies will also be asked to keep records of all this activity for inspection by the Environment Agency. If a business’s waste management decisions fail to comply with the waste hierarchy, they will be asked to justify them or face possible prosecution.

Guidance offered by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) explains that there is a legal duty on businesses that produce or handle waste to ‘take all such measures as are reasonable in the circumstances to apply the waste hierarchy to prevent waste and to apply the hierarchy as a priority order when you transfer waste to another person’.

Practical solutions

As the costs of sending waste to landfill constantly increase, the figures show recycling improvements have been made in the UK, with businesses recycling or reusing over 50% of commercial and industrial waste. Whilst we are heading in the right direction, we still have a way to go to catch up with our European neighbours. According to Defra, 55% of municipal waste generated in the UK is sent to landfill, compared to an EU-wide average of 40%.

Each food and drink production site has different challenges and our waste management experts provide a consultancy service whereby they audit the whole location and production processes to identify all waste streams to show where cost savings can be made and how waste can be turned into revenue. 

Sorting of waste at source

One key thing that has reduced the level of general waste is the proper sorting of material at source by implementing processes such as colour-coded bins. Reducing sorting after collection is more efficient and helps saves money down the line. Ensure your hygiene team can collect both food and non-food waste from source, weigh as required and segregate into dedicated streams. Non-meat derived waste can be compacted for use as animal feeds; metals separated and cardboard and plastic baled for recycling.

Under the Waste Regulations, from 1 January 2015, waste collectors must take practical measures to ensure separate collection of paper, metal, plastic and glass prior to it leaving site and waste producers should consider measures they might need to take to ensure their waste can be collected separately, such as the installation of the right recycling products. Our company keeps comprehensive records as part of the auditing process and provides food manufacturers with details of how the waste has been processed, reporting by kilo and split by material type.


Some ingredient waste is unavoidable, for example from trimming, but there may be secondary markets for the waste. Technological advancements have been introduced that can help reduce food waste such as anaerobic digestion (AD), whereby micro-organisms break down biodegradable material and turn it into energy.  Last year, the Government announced a £10m loan fund to help finance AD processing capacity. Other options for food waste include composting systems for soil conditioning or drying systems prior to burning for energy production.

Reducing waste through cleaning of the food manufacturing environment

Ensuring the utmost cleanliness of all plant processing equipment and the food manufacturing environment reduces food safety risks and helps to minimise product write-offs. Equipment will also be more energy efficient if it is properly and regularly maintained. Outsourcing food production site cleaning to hygiene specialists ensures the production site meets stringent hygiene requirements whilst allowing the food manufacturer to focus on the core task of food production, saving money and labour costs.

If you are using workers to provide a service, e.g. cleaning the food production line or waste that is to be further used (e.g. in pet foods), then the contractor must be licensed by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA). You can check who holds a licence via the GLA website: or contact the GLA on 0845 602 5020 to clarify the licensing requirement in particular circumstances.

Careful use of water is one way of reducing waste and saving money. Our company has invested in low pressure wash down systems that use less water and energy and reduce the risk of dangerous particles being released into the air compared to high pressure washing. Wastage of water can be reduced by using the latest chemical products, which act in a much quicker way, use less water and energy than chemicals with sodium hydroxide properties.

Waste areas, including compacters and balers, need to be thoroughly cleaned using stringent methods to reduce the risk of pathogenic organisms. Periodic deep cleaning programmes should also be implemented to maintain stringent hygiene standards.


Review how your products are packaged, labelled and distributed to minimise waste. Use more recyclable content and think about the shape and size of products. For example, manufacturers have taken steps to make carbonated drinks and canned packaging more lightweight. Encourage suppliers to provide ingredients in re-usable plastic crates or tote boxes and to avoid unnecessary packaging. Packaging that cannot be re-used should be separated for baling and recycling. Ensure regular calibration of weighing equipment to avoid underweight bags being classed as rejects.

Energy efficiency

Taking steps to improve energy efficiency will reduce overall running costs as well as having a positive environmental impact. There are many practical measures you could take such as using energy efficient lighting, ovens, boilers and refrigerators; using machinery with variable speed drives and high efficiency motors and checking refrigerant systems, air compressors and other equipment for leaks. Ensure that non-essential heating, lighting and equipment is turned off when not required and improve building insulation.

In summary, with investment in the right services and products at all levels in the chain – from manufacture, distribution, recovery and recycling – a larger reduction will be made in the amount of waste sent to landfill every year, costs will be reduced, waste turned into revenue and environmental damage lessened. Make sure that staff are aware of your waste management processes and provide appropriate training.

Antony Thompson is director of the ISS Facility Services food manufacturing division

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