Food Waste Management in UK

Food waste in the United Kingdom is a matter of serious environmental, economic and social concern that has been attracting widespread attention in recent years. According to ‘Feeding the 5K’ organisation, 13,000 slices of crusts are thrown away every day by a single sandwich factory. More recently, Tesco, one of the largest UK food retailers, has published its sustainability report admitting that the company generated 28,500 tonnes of food waste in the first six months of 2013. TESCO’s report also state that 47% of the bakery produced is wasted. In terms of GHG emissions, DEFRA estimated that food waste is associated with 20 Mt of CO2 equivalent/year, which is equivalent to 3% of the total annual GHG emissions.

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Globally, 1.2 to 2 billion tonnes (30%-50%) of food produced is thrown away before it reaches a human stomach. Food waste, if conceived as a state, is responsible for 3.3 Bt-CO2 equivalent/year, which would make it the third biggest carbon emitter after China and USA.

What makes food waste an even more significant issue is the substantially high demand for food which is estimated to grow 70% by 2050 due to the dramatic increase of population which is expected to reach 9.5 billion by 2075. Therefore, there is an urgent need to address food waste as a globally challenging issue which should be considered and tackled by sustainable initiatives.

A War on Food Waste

The overarching consensus to tackle the food waste issue has led to the implementation of various policies. For instance, the European Landfill Directive (1999/31/EC) set targets to reduce organic waste disposed to landfill in 2020 to 35% of that disposed in 1995 (EC 1999).

More recently, the European Parliament discussed a proposal to “apply radical measures” to halve food waste by 2025 and to designate the 2014 year as “the European Year Against Food Waste”. In the light of IMechE’s report (2013), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in cooperation with FAO has launched the Save Food Initiative in an attempt to reduce food waste generated in the global scale.

In the UK, WRAP declared a war on food waste by expanding its organic waste programme in 2008 which was primarily designed to “establish the most cost-effective and environmentally sustainable ways of diverting household food waste from landfill that leads to the production of a saleable product”. DEFRA has also identified food waste as a “priority waste stream” in order to achieve better waste management performance.

In addition to governmental policies, various voluntary schemes have been introduced by local authorities such as Nottingham Declaration which aims to cut local CO2 emissions 60% by 2050.

Sustainable Food Waste Management

Engineering has introduced numerous technologies to deal with food waste. Many studies have been carried out to examine the environmental and socio-economic impacts of food waste management options. This article covers the two most preferable options; anaerobic digestion and composting.

In-vessel composting (IVC) is a well-established technology which is widely used to treat food waste aerobically and convert it into a valuable fertilizer. IVC is considered a sustainable option because it helps by reducing the amount of food waste landfilled. Hence, complying with the EU regulations, and producing a saleable product avoiding the use of natural resources.

IVC is considered an environmentally favourable technology compared with other conventional options (i.e. landfill and incineration). It contributes less than 0.06% to the national greenhouse gas inventories. However, considering its high energy-intensive collection activities, the overall environmental performance is “relatively poor”.

Anaerobic Digestion (AD) is a leading technology which has had a rapidly growing market over the last few years. AD is a biologically natural process in which micro-organisms anaerobically break down food waste and producing biogas which can be used for both Combined Heat & Power (CHP) and digestate that can be used as soil fertilizers or conditioners. AD has been considered as the “best option” for food waste treatment. Therefore, governmental and financial support has been given to expand AD in the UK.

AD is not only a food waste treatment technology, but also a renewable source of energy. For instance, It is expected that AD would help the UK to meet the target of supplying 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Furthermore, AD technology has the potential to boost the UK economy by providing 35,000 new jobs if the technology is adopted nationally to process food waste. This economic growth will significantly improve the quality of life among potential beneficiaries and thus all sustainability elements are considered.

Why Businesses Need to Reduce Their Carbon Output?

According to a recent Nielsen study, 81 percent of consumers feel strongly that businesses should be taking measures to reduce their impact on the environment. This passion is shared across generations, and it’s safe to say that businesses that have little regard for their corporate social responsibility are significantly less desirable to consumers.

Despite this, a 2018 survey by Carbon Credentials found that only 10 percent of UK businesses had strategies in place to cut carbon emissions. Of those that did, none had a set science-based target in their carbon reduction plan. We know that climate change will devastate the economy and drastically increase the cost of doing business. That’s not even mentioning how it will impact resource scarcity and the global population as a whole.

At the same time, businesses that take the initiative to reduce their carbon footprint can look forward to many more immediate benefits. Here’s why your business needs to reduce its carbon output and what you can do to champion climate action.

Cost Savings

Naturally, your expenses go down with your resource usage. From using more efficient equipment to streamlining your transportation operations to recycling office supplies, there are countless measures every business can take to make this happen. Within the first month, you’ll have more money to allocate towards growth – instead of utility bills.

Regulatory and Tax Compliance

Year-on-year, laws are passed to penalise businesses that don’t make an effort to reduce their impact on the environment and reward those that do. In the UK, this includes the Climate Change Levy, the EU Emissions Trading System and capital allowances on energy-efficient equipment, among other schemes.

Public Image

A 2015 Nielsen study of 30,000 consumers found that 66 percent of them would pay more for sustainably manufactured products. Among millennials, that portion increases to 77 percent. Gen Z is known to be even more conscious in this regard. The more your business cares, the more your customers will care about your business.

Employee Morale

In a similar light, going green fosters positive feelings from your employees as well. This has many benefits. For one, your staff will be more productive and motivated to achieve if they know they’re working for a good cause. Additionally, turnover will be reduced as employees will be less compelled to leave a work community that cares.

The Bigger Picture

This should go without saying, but reducing your company’s environmental impact has lasting benefits for your community and the economy as a whole. The likelihood of your long-term success and prosperity is far greater if the environment is in better shape.

What You Can Do

The list of measures your business can take to become more environmentally conscious is quite frankly endless. Get started by taking a look at this post on Utility Bidder, an energy supplier comparison website, about some simple ways that businesses can reduce their carbon output. The internet serves as a wealth of information on this topic.

Implementing greener practises is extremely beneficial to your business and more often than not, it is a dead-simple process. Getting started today will help you reap the benefits and reach your business goals sooner.

Electrical Waste Collection Strategies in the UK

When disposing of small electrical items from the home, most householders only have the option of visiting their local recycling facility to drop them off. However, in order to meet recycling targets, local authorities in the UK are now considering kerbside (or curbside) collections of small domestic appliances. This is expected to help prevent small electrical items being placed into the general waste/refuse containers from households.

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This waste stream has become a priority as figures show that the average amount of WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment) recycled per person is only 1.3kg. The original WEEE directive targeted 4kg per person, as a recycling rate, so there is a considerable shortfall. It is important that householders find it easy to recycle their items in order to increase the rates.

Initial trials have taken place to assess the viability of these kerbside collections and the following conclusions were made:

  • On collections, small electrical items were often damaged, so the reuse of items was less likely.
  • Levels of recycling were encouraging at 140 grams per household.
  • The monetary value of the separated materials of the small items showed that a positive net value could be achieved.

Whilst the potential reuse of small electrical items was reduced it was a positive that local authorities could generate revenues from the collections. Quarterly or bi-annual collection frequencies would ensure volumes of equipment on the collections were maximised. Due to the success of the trials, the UK is likely to see more and more local authorities adopt some form of collection schedule for small electrical waste items.

An old refrigerator uses almost four times the electricity of a new one

Larger electrical items such as washing machines and fridge freezers pose a different collection issue. Some local authorities offer a collection service for bulky electrical items, however due to their size, weight and manpower requirements there is often a charge. As with smaller electrical items, you can deliver these to the local recycling facility, but you may not be able to fit these into your own vehicle. It is best to check with the local recycling facility on the options available and possibly even if they allow large, commercial sized vehicles onto site.

The collection of electrical wastes from households in the UK will ultimately increase the amount of electrical waste being recycled in the UK. It will also further promote the recycling of such items instead of placing them into general waste containers. Going forward it is hoped that more local authorities will adopt a collection schedule even if only bi-annually from their local householders.

Global Trends in the Biomass Sector

There has been a flurry of activity in the biomass energy sector in recent year, with many new projects and initiatives being given the green light across the globe. This movement has been on both a regional and local level; thanks to the increased efficiency of biomass energy generators and a slight lowering in implementation costs, more businesses and even some homeowners are converting waste-to-energy systems or by installing biomass energy units.

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Latest from the United Kingdom

Our first notable example of this comes from Cornwall in the UK. As of this week, a small hotel has entirely replaced its previous oil-based heating system with biomass boilers. Fuelled from wood wastes brought in from a neighboring forest, the BudockVean hotel has so far been successful in keeping the entire establishment warm on two small boilers despite it being the height of British winter – and when warmer weather arrives, plans to install solar panels on the building’s roof is to follow.

Similar projects have been undertaken across small businesses in Britain, including the south-coast city of Plymouth that has just been announced to house a 10MW biomass power plant (alongside a 20MW plant already in construction). These developments arein part thanks to the UK government’s Renewable Heat Incentive which was launched back in 2011. The scheme only provides funding to non-domestic properties currently, but a domestic scheme is in the works this year to help homeowners also move away from fossil fuels.

Initiatives (and Setbacks) in the US

Back across the pond, and the state of New York is also launching a similar scheme. The short-term plan is to increase public education on low-emission heating and persuade a number of large business to make the switch; in the longer term, $800m will be used to install advanced biomass systems in large, state-owned buildings.

A further $40m will be used as part of a competition to help create a series of standalone energy grids in small towns and rural areas, which is a scheme that could hopefully see adopted beyond New York if all goes well.


Unfortunately, the move away from fossil fuels hasn’t been totally plain sailing across the US. Georgia suffered a blow this week as plans to convert a 155MW coal plant to biomass have been abandoned, citing large overheads and low projected returns. The company behind the project have met similar difficulties at other sites, but as of this week are moving ahead with further plans to convert over 2000MW of oil and coal energy generation in the coming years.

Elsewhere in the US, a company has conducted a similar study as to whether biomass plant building will be feasible in both Florida and Louisiana. Surveying has only just been completed, but if things go better than the recent developments in Georgia, the plants will go a long way to converting biomass to fertilizer for widespread use in agriculture in both states.

Far East Leading the Way

One country that is performing particularly well in biomass energy investment market is Japan. Biomass is being increasingly used in power plants in Japan as a source of fuel, particularly after the tragic accident at Fukushima nuclear power plant in 2011.  Palm kernel shell (PKS) has emerged as a favorite choice of biomass-based power plants in the country. Most of these biomass power plants use PKS as their energy source, and only a few operate with wood pellets. Interestingly, most of the biomass power plants in Japan have been built after 2015..

On the contrary, the US and Europe saw a fairly big fall in financing during this period; it should be noted, however, that this relates to the green energy investment market as a whole as opposed to biomass-specific funding. The increase seen in Japan has been attributed to an uptake in solar paneling, and if we look specifically to things such as the global demand for biomass pellets, we see that the most recent figures paint the overall market in a much more favorable light for the rest of the world.

Brighter Times Ahead

All in all, it’s an exciting time for the biomass industry despite the set backs which are being experienced in some regions.  On the whole, legislators and businesses are working remarkably well together in order to pave the way forward – being a fairly new market (from a commercially viable sense at least), it has taken a little while to get the ball rolling, but expect to see it blossom quickly now that the idea of biomass is starting to take hold.