Bio Collectors bills itself as London’s largest food waste recycling firm. Corin Williams speaks to director Paul Killoughery about his efforts to spread the food waste recycling message and what he thinks about Brexit.
How did you first get started in the recycling business?
I trained as an accountant and an engineer and joined the family business, Killoughery, 25 years ago. About seven years ago we started collecting food waste in London, beginning with one truck, collecting from schools and hospitals. About four years ago we purchased the current anaerobic digestion (AD) business.
Why branch out into food waste?
Before the landfill tax escalator came into place, food waste was not really on the radar. It was always going to be cheaper to mix food with residual waste and put it into landfill.
As the escalator started to bite, we could make a commercial case for it. We believed at the time that a landfill ban would come in earlier and we saw an opportunity. My engineering experience came into play, and was a strong influence on me building and running a plant.
You supported the UK leaving the EU – now that this will become a reality, are you still confident that SMEs like yours will be better off?
I’m a great believer in having a say in what is done. We are now masters of our own destiny, in that if something is important to the Great British public, they are likely to vote for it and the Government is more likely to adopt it.
It’s an opportunity to revisit recycling targets and the green agenda. Let’s look at definitions of waste and recycling that fits in with us rather than having discussions with Europe. The next general election will be an interesting time to see if the public really want this.
But the UK public may not be that bothered about recycling.
It’s up to the industry to make the case. We’ve got time to do it, and we are great pioneers on climate change and other matters. I have to mention the Rio Olympics and where we finished on the medals table – people do look to us to lead. Why can’t we do the same for the recycling sector?
Food waste measures under the EU’s circular economy (CE) package may not now become part of UK legislation – does this worry you?
We have already got policies in place – the waste hierarchy is already there and ready to go, it’s just not being enforced. There are plenty of examples of legislation that came from the UK and not the EU.
The CE package has lots of messages in it, and they looked at redefining incineration and recycling. This seem to be driven by other EU countries where there is far more emphasis than here on incineration. In reality, a lot of food is being incinerated rather than landfilled. Incineration is probably the biggest danger in terms of food waste recycling in the UK.
How will the reduction in the Feed-in Tariff affect the AD sector?
It’s not good news and adds another round of uncertainty. I don’t think there is any confidence in the industry to build AD plants that rely on combined heat and power. There is a little bit of confidence on building gas plants, but we don’t know yet whether the Renewable Heat Incentive will be extended.
The industry doesn’t know which way is up at the moment. Without the help of a subsidy, food waste cannot be recycled because it’s too expensive.
We’ve seen what is happening in Scotland, and everywhere else but England. Banning food from residual waste is proven to work. I think it would be game-changing, and there is certainly capacity within the AD industry to cope with it. Realistically, we could run at about 70,000 tonnes a year.
Bio Collectors produced a food waste report earlier this year. Is this part of your wider strategy to raise the profile of food recycling?
Yes, our #JustADFood campaign is a simple message that food can be recycled and produce a useful fertiliser. London mayor Sadiq Khan has said he will be the ‘greenest’ London mayor ever. I’m looking forward to talking to him and his advisers about what can be done. He also has responsibility for transport – there’s a perfect fit, between food waste producing gas and gas-driven buses.
BIO COLLECTORS AT A GLANCE
The company grew out of a family firm established more than 40 years ago. It employs around 52 staff, most of whom are drivers collecting food waste from London businesses – mainly restaurants, hotels and offices.
It also runs and anaerobic digestion plant in Mitcham, south-west London, which employs around 12 people. It produces 1.7MW of combined heat and power and an equivalent in methane gas of 2.4MW. It also produces fertiliser that complies with the PAS110 standard which is supplied to farms across Surrey.
The site licence is for 100,000 tonnes of food waste a year and it currently processes around 50,000 tonnes.