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Is AD cost-effective?

The business case for food waste collections will be presented by Jacqui MacCaig, director of RUR3 Environmental, in an afternoon session on the first day of the conference.

She has worked in the waste industry for nearly 20 years and has a breadth of experience, from establishing kerbside recycling schemes, selling recyclables, to procuring food waste for treatment in anaerobic digestion (AD) plants. At RUR3 she works to identify feedstock for plants in planning, with a view to securing and managing these once the site is operational.

MacCaig will review the services that are currently available to those interested in implementing separate food waste collections. Well-planned collections can make economic sense for all kinds of businesses, and this session will show visitors how they can realise the benefits to their business.

“Separate food waste collections to AD can make a lot of sense for commercial businesses that are interested in maximising the value of the waste they produce, where on-site integration is not suitable or practical,” says MacCaig.

“Well-planned collections can not only save money by reducing landfill costs but they also improve the quality of dry recyclable waste streams, offering businesses the opportunity to generate further revenue from waste resources.”

The session will also discuss future policy, what is needed to further support collections and thus AD for food and drink businesses, along with the implications that policy changes may have on the wider industry.

Improving the availability of separate food waste collections for those with the foresight to explore this potential would improve the availability of food waste feedstock for all AD plants.

AD can and is working in several local authority situations. But the implementation of such technology in the local authority setting involves careful thinking in several areas, not least how to achieve the maximum cost-effec-tiveness in design and operation.

Also on the first day of the conference, the expert panel in the ‘Understanding Organic Waste Options’ morning session is chaired by Julia Barrett. She has spent six years as the director of environment and regulation at Cambridgeshire County Council, where she was responsible for waste, planning and environment services. On the panel will be Tina Wolter, AD technology manager at Sita; Andrew Needham, commercial director of BiogenGreenfinch; and council representatives from Somerset Waste Partnership, Norfolk County Council and Leeds City Council.

Barrett says: “The drivers for AD, such as the cost of landfill tax and fuel costs, are all making it an increasingly attractive proposition and the cost-effectiveness can be seen on a number of different levels. The challenge is getting your collection and treatment operations to fit with your wider needs as a local authority.”

The cost-effectiveness of AD will be discussed as part of a wider panel discussion on contracts and constraints, and collections and fleets.

From their various perspectives, the panel will review the multiple benefits of AD as a waste management option, a way of generating energy and offsetting transport costs, a potential new revenue stream through the production of biofertiliser and improved quality of other dry recyclable material. They will look at the decisions that councils need to take and what they should consider in each of these.

Barrett adds: “AD can make a lot of financial sense, but this is not just a financial decision. There is also the cost to the environment, the benefits of environmental protection, and the fact that the process produces by-products that can generate revenue and reduce council tax bills - these are all things that should be considered.”

Also taking part on day one of the conference is John Woodruff, head of waste services at Bromley Council. He will be speaking at the ‘Aspiration and Reality: The Challenges to Local Authorities’ session, and will review the dilemma faced by councils who want to increase recycling and reduce waste creation while keeping residents on-side, costs down but remaining in line with priorities set by the Government.

The latest financial settlement for local authorities has resulted in a 27% reduction in funding, implemented over a four-year period. Combined with the increasing costs of landfill tax, the pressure on municipal waste services to control costs is crucial if frontline services are to be protected.

“Provision of waste collection is one of the key services that residents will measure and assess their councils on,” says Woodruff. “It is therefore a complicated balancing act to deliver the service your residents want and need while dealing with waste in the most efficient, sustainable and cost-effective way.”

The diversion of food waste to beneficial use has a key role to play in this strategy, and the option of AD facilities providing an alternative disposal route has the potential to provide substantial environmental and financial benefits.

Woodruff adds: “As a result, the potential for AD in the local authority setting is huge. Not only is AD the most sustainable treatment option for food and garden waste - as recognised by Defra in the waste review - but, when carefully integrated, can also offer costs savings on treatment and collection of waste.”

Rosaline Hulse is Communications & Systems Executive at The Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association

Case study: Ben & Jerry’s

Luxury ice cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry’s has been using AD since 2011. Ben & Jerry’s is now part of Unilever, whose AD plant in Hellendorn, The Netherlands, successfully integrated the technology into its business at factory level.

Developed in conjunction with Dutch water technology company Paques, the plant provides 40% of the factory’s green energy requirements. It also offers significant benefits in terms of the treatment of fats and oils, which are key waste streams of the ice cream production process.

Paques regional manager Willie Driessen will present a case study on the digester on the ‘Getting Value from Your Food Waste’ conference.

Installed at the Unilever Ben & Jerry’s factory, the plant is treating spent process effluents, including water streams containing milk, cream, proteins, syrups and pieces of fruit.

The plant was commissioned after a pilot trial. The Paques reactor was chosen because it has been designed specially for treating the levels of fats and oils found in these waste streams, along with regular biodegradable material, in one single reactor without prior separation.

Now achieving removal efficiencies of above 90%, Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s are pleased with the performance of the installation, not least because it is running well with little intervention.

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