Food waste can be an economic as well as environmental opportunity, says Charlotte Morton, CEO of the Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association
The waste produced by food supply chains has been a hot topic recently. In January, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers produced a report suggesting up to half the food produced worldwide is never eaten by consumers, while revelations about horse meat have drawn attention to wider supply chain issues and created a significant volume of food waste as a result.
In the case of contaminated meat products, Sainsbury's confirmed that the "products withdrawn from stores will be sent to anaerobic digestion plants" to produce renewable energy and biofertiliser.
The Government confirmed in its 2011 Waste Review that anaerobic digestion recovers the greatest environmental benefit of any treatment option for waste food.
Fortunately, doing the right thing for the environment is now achieving the best economic value, too, as onsite source segregation of waste and tailored collection and treatment of the organic fraction through anaerobic digestion is resulting in less overall waste generated, and slashing the costs of disposal.
Wasting less is the first step in reducing costs: collections are charged by weight, so the less you have the cheaper it is to take away. And in order to waste less, you need to understand what you are throwing away.
Extracting the organic food fraction separately maximises the value of all the other recyclable material in the waste stream, allowing more to be reused and resold for a better price.
The better this price the lower the processing cost and therefore the lower your collection and treatment costs.
With Landfill Tax set to reach £80 per tonne by 2014, many businesses are seeing the benefit to their bottom line of sorting their waste and getting the organic fraction treated through anaerobic digestion.
For businesses producing larger volumes of food waste, there are growing opportunities with onsite anaerobic digestion plants, as developers are offering a range of solutions. As well as reducing waste collection costs, these allow the site to take advantage of the renewable energy generated, and also receive direct financial support from the Government.
The Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association will be answering waste questions at IFE 13 (17-20 March, ExCel London).