Reducing food waste

Paul Killoughery, Managing Director of Bio Collectors.

Food waste is receiving more attention in the media, and has also been stepped up on the political agenda with Westminster’s own disposal methods in the spotlight. This can only be positive for the environment in the long term, but we think there needs to be more pressure on FM managers in commercial buildings to control waste disposal. While not a new issue, we need to encourage those in decision-making positions to toe the line when it comes to correct and environmentally-friendly waste disposal. The industry must be educated on the best methods of waste disposal in order for change to occur.

Reducing food waste is one avenue towards a more sustainable future, and this can be achieved through working with in-house catering staff or contractors to identify opportunities such as tighter control over the ordering of working lunches; active management of the quantities cooked in canteens; and better stock ordering. However, there will always be leftover waste and it is what is done with it that is paramount to the future of the environment.

Once a more popular option, landfill has become unfeasible from both an environmental and cost perspective. Unfortunately, this has pushed some companies towards incinerating food waste instead. While the price (£70-80 per tonne) and ease of incineration might be appealing, it is still a damaging the environment through the carbon emissions and fact that ash still needs to be sent to landfill.

To put it into perspective, incinerators emit more carbon dioxide per unit of electricity than coal-fired power plants. Although energy is produced, the resulting emissions have a negative effect on the environment. Food and drink waste accounts for 20 percent of the UK’s CO2eq emissions, so it’s clear that we need to be looking for much greener processes.

Anaerobic digestion (AD) is one of the most attractive options, providing a renewable source of energy. It dramatically reduces the impact on the environment, while producing rich fertiliser that farmers, at the start of the food chain, can use to improve crop harvests. It also produces energy without creating any by-products. With the government granting permission over the last couple of years for heavy investment in AD plants, they are increasingly becoming an option that companies can’t ignore. So the questions is, why are the more harmful processes still used by so many?

One of the main reasons is the perceived cost and additional effort involved. For food waste to be recycled it needs to be collected separately to other general waste. It’s a fairly simple concept, but one that does require new processes and equipment. Restaurants have been doing it for some time, and households are getting better following the introduction of kerbside caddies. However, commercial properties are lagging behind, with vast quantities of food and drink from sites literally going up in smoke at incineration plants.

Once a system of separation is implemented, the business can almost sit back and relax. Our company can collect the waste and ensure it is properly recycled. On the face of it it’s a very simple process, and one that can be introduced relatively quickly. It is the recycler itself that bears the brunt of the work – taking the waste, processing it into sludge and pasteurising it to kill any bacteria. After three weeks of holding the waste an AD plant has produced the fertiliser and pumped methane gas back into the national grid.

The beauty is sending food waste to an AD plant is that it is allot cheaper – almost half the price of incineration. Another bonus is that when large companies use us for their food waste collection, they have the option of buying the gas produced during the process back to utilise as energy in their own businesses. So, despite having a set up cost when introducing new processes and bins to separate waste, there are long terms gains for your bottom line and the environment.

Ultimately we all want to reduce food waste. The best case scenario is that we simply eat everything, but the reality is that there will always be leftovers that need to be disposed of. We need to educate those holding key FM positions, who are responsible for waste management, on the cost and environmental benefits of recycling food. This will help them make better informed decisions about what to do with waste at their sites and stop food waste from going up in smoke.

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