Food waste is providing a considerable bellyache for the Government and the recycling industry. Despite ongoing campaigns to educate people otherwise, the unsustainable nature of consumption habits in the UK and correspondingly high levels of wasted food are still a cause for alarm, in terms of the ethical, environmental and economic implications.
WRAP and Defra estimate that around 12 million tonnes of business food waste and 8.3 million tonnes of household food waste are generated each year in the UK. This costs the average household £680 a year, while gases released during decomposition of food waste buried in landfills (predominantly methane) constitute some 20% of the UK’s total greenhouse
gas emissions, says WRAP.
Some progress has already been achieved through the success of Phase 1 of the Courtauld Commitment, which required a reduction in UK food waste of 155,000 tonnes a year by 2010 against 2008 levels. Results announced in September 2010 revealed that a total of 670,000 tonnes of food waste has been avoided during 2005-09. This represents an average reduction of 167,500 tonnes a year.
Considerably more needs to be done to meet Courtauld Phase 2, which requires a further 4% (330,000 tonnes) reduction in household food waste and 5% reduction in supply chain product and packaging waste. Furthermore, it is vital to divert more food waste away from landfill to comply with the Landfill Directive.
It is vital to acknowledge a crucial problem in the fight against food waste. While households are bombarded with calls to cut their waste and increase the percentage of waste they recycle, there are no comparative targets for the generators of commercial food waste.
Despite the fact that commercial and supply chain food waste makes up almost two-thirds of the total, little has been done to address the problem. Concerted efforts must be levied at commercial sectors to help them improve their recycling rates if significant successes are to be achieved. It is the responsibility of such sectors to attend to the problem and put in place infrastructure and systems by which their contribution to fulfilling food waste targets can be aided.
Bywaters’ ‘bio-cycler’ system addresses this sector, but to do so has required investment in new plant and user equipment that incorporates removable cornstarch bags which are fully biodegradable.
Collections of food waste have previously needed the simultaneous collection of plastic bags containing the refuse, and plant machinery capable of debagging their contents and removing plastic waste. Investment in cornstarch bags mean that, once committed to composting or digestion, the bags biodegrade at the same rate as the waste and create output of PAS 100/110 standard. But one disadvantage accrues: the bags can only tolerate moisture for a limited period and, given the ‘wet’ nature of much food waste, it is essential that collections occur frequently.
This has a knock-on consequence for vehicular deployment. We operate a dedicated food waste service, with 7.5-tonne lorries collecting bins from businesses and delivering the waste to treatment plants, where the bins are thoroughly cleaned then returned to the client. The food waste stream is totally separated from other waste streams to maximise recycling rates and output high-quality recyclate, without the risk of collateral contamination of dry recyclables.
It is important to note that by separating food waste in this way, much of the residual waste in the general collection becomes a recyclate itself. So the more food waste the recycling industry is able to take out of commercial waste streams, the better the recycling quality of residual waste, which makes our work in other areas considerably easier.
John Glover is managing director of Bywaters