Tackling London’s food waste

The environment has increasingly become an area of focus for the government as the damage we cause through common practices has greater effect and consumers are starting to take note. While the work towards cleaning up air pollution in the capital is a positive step forward, other sectors impacting the environment are being left in the back seat.

Food waste is an issue affecting both the public and private sectors and it is paramount that waste disposal methods are brought to the forefront of the agenda. This is why we have released our Tackling London’s Food Waste report and launched our Just AD Food campaign.

Our concern is that not enough food waste is recycled in London due to the poor segregation of waste, with just 18 of 33 councils providing the option. Once food waste is separated from other types, it must be recycled, but when combined there is no option but to send all waste to landfill or incineration. These are not environmentally viable solutions, both causing the release of toxic fumes into the atmosphere.

The report and accompanying campaign champion anaerobic digestion (AD) as the preferred method of food waste disposal, which is guaranteed to cut costs for businesses and councils. The campaign sets out four objectives that will help London’s recycling rates increase and minimise the impact of unavoidable food waste on the environment.

Firstly, we want to put pressure on all London councils to introduce separate food waste collections and use the greenest recycling methods. When processed in an AD system, food waste does not produce any harmful by-products, unlike incineration and landfill. While incinerating waste will produce gas and electricity that can be repurposed into the national grid and utilised in homes, it also pumps a huge amount of CO2 into the atmosphere. AD is the only clean method of disposal that can also produce a nutrient-rich fertiliser known as digestate. At Bio Collectors, we give this product to local farms where it then completes the circular economy of farm to farm, helping to grow the next crops.

In addition to lobbying councils into more environmentally friendly practices, we think it is essential that London-based businesses, such as restaurants and retailers, take responsibility for the impact they make. We want to encourage them to choose food waste collectors that use local AD plants to process their leftovers.

However, simply sending the waste to AD is not enough – being local is key. Food waste is being transported miles out of London when we have not yet reached AD capacity within the capital, which erodes the ‘green’ message. In fact, many waste management professionals are not even aware of where their food waste is going, once collected by their chosen firm. Just AD Food aims to open people’s eyes to the negative impact of choosing plants further afield when there is plenty of capacity closer to home.

Finally, we want to ensure that all London’s AD plants are operating at full capacity before any food waste is transported out of the capital. At the moment, we are some way off achieving that. If Sadiq Khan wants to be the greenest mayor ever, we need to be operating at full capacity.

We believe that change is possible, but it starts with communication and education. The waste hierarchy places the prevention of food waste at the top as the best case scenario. Of course, some food waste, such as banana skin and tea bags, is unavoidable and so the best scenario is to repurpose or redistribute the food. When utilising the food is not an option, the hierarchy dictates that recycling, including in-vessel composting and AD, are the best methods, with incineration and landfill bringing up the rear as the least beneficial options.

This is not an issue singularly for councils, the government, businesses or consumers – this is a collective problem and we all need to sit up, take notice and change in order to make a difference to the environment.

Photo by USDAgov

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Paul Killoughery

Paul Killoughery

Managing director, Bio Collectors

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