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Raise a glass and toast the value in waste

Many of you will like nothing more than relaxing during the evening with a glass of fine ale.

That’s why for me – as a man passionate about reducing waste and a lover of a good beer – when I came across Toast Ale, it was a perfect combination.

Toast Ale is brewed in London and the company uses bread, which would otherwise be wasted, as an ingredient for its beer. It slices, toasts and mashes it up to make breadcrumbs ready for the brewing process. And profits from sales go to charity.

This is a classic example of putting waste to work and extracting the hidden value from it: quite literally Toast Ale has found treasure in another man’s trash. Not only does a business like this help to move food waste up the waste hierarchy, but it is also feeding our economy.

But don’t think that innovation like this is exclusive to start-ups. Multinational brands also see the value in waste – Unilever, for example, has shown it can be done on a grand scale.

It uses brewers’ waste yeast to make its love-it-or-hate-it product Marmite. One source of waste yeast from is Molson Coors, the brewer of Carling and Cobra. Molson reports that it has been able to reduce its waste to landfill by 27% in two years and save £60,000 in disposal costs as a result of the partnership.

Waste really can pay. Unilever is even using the sticky sludge that remains after Marmite production to generate energy for more Marmite production. Just think: if Toast Ale could find a product that wanted to use its waste yeast, then the cycle continues.

Pushing waste to its limits in this way, and delving deeper than we have ever done before, has the potential to open up a vast new business area for the UK economy.

While it is still WRAP’s priority to prevent food waste, minimise loss, redistribute and reuse as much as possible in the first instance, it is now taking a much closer look at the stage between reuse and recycling. It is putting food waste under the microscope to see what hidden treasures there are in an approach called ‘valorisation’, which is a French word that simply means ‘to add value’.

Valorising our waste is part of the wider goal to create a sustainable food system, which WARP is championing with the food and drink sector through the recently launched Courtauld 2025. Initial work is already creating excitement for industry as the possibilities become more apparent.

But to get this work off the ground and look at those possibilities, a pioneering organisation is needed.

During the past year, the charity has been working with dairy organisation Arla Foods to map 13 of the company’s UK sites to find out exactly where waste is being produced. This is enabled the identification of lost product (not always as obvious as bread crusts), the cost to the business and the environmental impact.

In the coming months WRAP will be quantifying what it found with Arla. Not all the wastes identified will warrant further attention and some may not even be food-related. But it will be looking to see if there are viable solutions to extracting value from some of the current waste streams.

Through this work with Arla, WRAP has been able to build a mapping methodology that it can use with other businesses and organisations. When the methodology is available later this year, the charity will be encouraging the sector to look at how it works and ultimately use it on their own operations.

But while these innovations could create some exciting business opportunities, there will always be a vital role for food waste recycling. The UK’s anaerobic digestion industry successfully turns 820,000 tonnes of food waste into valuable energy and fertiliser each year.

This form of recycling is particularly important when it comes to post-consumer food waste and complex mixed food waste. And with seven million tonnes still being produced by householders each year, of which 1.6 million tonnes is unavoidable, there is plenty to go after.

But in the food supply chain, every producer will have waste. And when those streams are a common product or category, it presents an opportunity to take another look at it before it is packed off for recycling, or lost to landfill or sewer.

WRAP’s latest quantification research offers the best understanding yet of food surpluses and waste arisings in the supply chain. It highlights, first and foremost, waste minimisation opportunities and then the potential to redistribute more edible food to people and divert more inedible food to animals. In fact, after waste prevention, there could be as much as 1.5 million tonnes available for valorisation.

The research also presents the first ever waste data at sub-category level such as meat and dairy, enabling the categories that present the most opportunities to be tackled.

It is early days for valorisation. But with the new data to inform thinking, alongside the support of a steering group to consult with industry, WRAP is aiming to identify areas to focus on where it can have the biggest impact. It’s likely that bakery will be next, possibly followed by fresh fruit and produce.

Waste as we know it is being redefined. In doing so, we have the potential to create a resource-efficient and truly circular economy.

WRAP Action Plan

Maximise the amount being collected

WRAP is spearheading an action plan due out this summer to maximise the amount of household and commercial food waste being collected and recycled in England. According to the charity, some seven million tonnes of food is wasted by households every year, and capturing more of it would help the UK get closer to the EU target of 50% recycling by 2020.

WRAP director Marcus Gover said: “Just over 10% of household food waste is captured and recycled, which means that most is still ending upin the residual waste stream. Keeping it out of landfill and channelling it into recycling is an urgent priority, which is why we need the whole sector to work together.”

The plan is currently in draft form, drawing on the experience of a steering group led by Resource Association chief executive and former WRAP official Ray Georgeson. It includes representatives of waste treatment operators, local authorities, waste collectors and industry bodies.

Marcus Grover is director at WRAP

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