Local authorities shouldn’t step away from kerbside food waste collections but instead focus on driving up capture rates to save money, according to the chief executive of a leading anaerobic digestion company.
The call follows news that some councils are considering cutting back, or even dropping, split food collections on financial grounds. Instead, Tamar Energy chief executive, Dean Hislop, says authorities could focus on raising households’ awareness which, for relatively little outlay, can see an impressive uplift in collection rates – and consequently lower waste disposal charges.
Dean Hislop said, “Local authority finances are exceptionally tight at the moment and there’s a lot of pressure on budgets. Cutting food waste recycling to save money may seem to make sense in the short-term but it’s a missed opportunity to ‘invest a little to save a lot’, and tackle an important issue. The UK has a 50% legally binding recycling target, and food waste recycling is key to achieving this. The UK’s AD industry has delivered the necessary capacity, it needs to be matched by local and national government on collection rates.”
Trials, such as those conducted by Somerset Waste Partnership in 2015, have found that simple activities to remind people that food shouldn’t go to landfill, such as stickers on bins, increased food waste recycling rates by 20%. Boosting collection rates by these levels can save local authorities tens of thousands a year on disposal costs.
South Northamptonshire Council, benefiting from WRAP funding, also recently announced they are starting a similar trial – using stickers, leaflets and adverts – to raise awareness of food waste recycling.
Dean added: “The first step is to enforce the waste hierarchy, which is already agreed and enshrined in law. We’re absolutely clear that we should all waste less, and food that can be eaten, should be eaten. After this, unavoidable food waste should be sent to AD or composting. It’s economically, environmentally, and socially irresponsible to send food waste to landfill or ‘Energy from Waste’ plants.
“Using AD can make a real difference to the financial returns for councils. Education campaigns which increase food waste recycling rates by only 5% can make a positive financial contribution in the same year. Instead of retreating from recycling, I hope councils will look at creative ways of encouraging people to take part. These campaigns don’t have to target every household in a district or county – they work best when they’re targeted at areas of low recycling rates.”
AD gate fees are significantly less than disposal by landfill, offering waste managers opportunities to make significant cost savings. AD is also best placed to deal with unavoidable food waste as it provides several wider benefits: It creates a cost-effective baseload, as opposed to intermittent supply, of renewable energy. The AD process produces a nutrient rich biofertiliser, which displaces the use of petro-chemical derived fertilisers, and has been shown to improve yield rates and cut costs when used in agriculture for future food production.
Tamar Energy is one of the UK’s leading operators of commercial AD plants. It currently has four AD plants in operation at Halstead, Essex; Holbeach, Lincs; Basingstoke, Hants; Retford, Notts; and is shortly launching its fifth plant at Hoddesdon, Herts.