Last month I chaired a meeting of representatives from Defra, councils, the waste management industry and the anaerobic digestion sector in Parliament in a Policy Connect round table to discuss the Government’s decision to adopt mandatory food waste collections across England.
Announced in the resources and waste strategy and currently out for consultation until May, the aim of the policy is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from landfill by ensuring that every household and business has a weekly collection by 2023.
As you would expect, the round table generated a lively discussion and three key themes developed: the challenges for local authorities, the environmental opportunities of collections and how we increase public awareness and education.
With austerity still biting hard on council budgets up and down the country, funding food waste collections is set to be their main challenge. What is needed now is a commitment to meaningful, upfront support from Westminster or access to the revenue generated by the changes – also currently under consultation – on extended producer responsibility and the plastic packaging tax.
If implemented well, mandatory food waste collections have the potential to help the UK meet climate change objectives, restore soils through the production of natural fertilisers and decarbonise our energy supply. It is not a surprise, therefore, that both the National Infrastructure Commission and the Committee on Climate Change have called for the policy to be implemented in England.
The potential of recycling food waste is already being realised by the devolved administrations in Cardiff, Holyrood and Stormont. But in England it is reported that only a third of households have food waste collections.
British households throw away 7.3 million tonnes a year of edible food waste at a value of £15bn. Alongside the rollout of collections there should be a nationwide communications campaign led by Whitehall, with a clear and consistent message that encourages high capture rates from households and businesses.
To change behaviour and encouraged participation, the choice of language will be crucial. From my perspective, we need to talk about food waste as a valuable resource that can be recycled.
It is clear that voluntary agreements alone were never going to tackle the environmental and moral scandal of food waste. To that end, the announcement is an important step forward.
Now we need to see funding and departmental collaboration from the Government, joined up thinking across the supply chain, mandated targets and message consistency across the country to make it a success. As always, the devil will be in the detail.
Kerry McCarthy is Bristol MP