Our understanding of how to get the most from our waste has evolved quickly, which causes problems for those looking at investing long term. However, the sooner everyone understands the optimal waste treatment process, the easier and faster it will be for us all to transition – saving money in the process.
The main reason source-segregation is so vital is because it reduces overall waste arisings, particularly food waste. Reducing the food we throw away is better for the environment than any treatment technology - eight times better even than AD! It’s also good for our wallets – when we see what we are wasting, and what we are spending, we think twice and buy less next time or take other steps not to waste it.
Source-segregation also increases the quality of other waste streams. The better the quality of the materials collected, the higher their value. This makes more money for the council, reducing overall collection costs and our council tax bills.
Finally, our food waste contains valuable nutrients – estimated at over £150m a year according to WRAP data – which it is criminal to waste. End of waste standards allow these nutrients to be recycled back to land as biofertilisers – but only if the waste has been source-segregated.
Source-segregation and the treatment of organics through AD is the only way that we can recoup the value both of the energy and nutrients trapped in the food we throw away, as well as saving money. Incinerating valuable resources that can be recycled does not make environmental or economic sense in the long term. We are facing a period of economic difficulty that throws our short sighted attitudes to resource use into sharp relief. This is true of all our vital materials: paper, glass, metals, electrical components and food.
We understand and recognise that existing waste management contracts and infrastructure cannot be changed overnight and that many of the assets currently in use were built in response to Government policy direction. However, there is no excuse today – when we now do understand how best to use our waste resources – for continuing down the wrong path.
Charlotte Morton, chief executive, Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association