Giving large-scale food and drink manufacturers more support to install on-site anaerobic digestion facilities could save millions of tonnes of food and litres of water from going to waste, a leading water company has said.
Alpheus Environmental, a subsidiary of the Anglian Water Group, has expressed concern that it is currently cheaper for businesses to invest in off-site renewable energy schemes – such as wind farms – than it is for them to produce energy from their own waste.
Allowing large food and beverage companies to invest in anaerobic digestion schemes and use their waste to produce bioenergy, biosolid sludge or large volumes of biogas would help prevent mass wastage and boost the UK economy after Brexit, the company has claimed.
Steven Wilcox, the waste management company’s head of business development, said: ‘We meet with large-scale manufacturers who want to do the right thing and meet their sustainability targets, but at present the incentives simply aren’t there for them to choose anaerobic digestion.
‘With Brexit generating uncertainty in relation to ingredient sourcing and exports over the next five years, large-scale manufacturers see the multi-million-pound investment needed to install anaerobic digestion technology as being a considerable risk.’
Anaerobic digestion – a process which uses microorganisms to treat biodegradable waste – is already commonly used among farmers and small-scale food manufacturers in the UK, with several industries receiving subsidies to encourage the practice in recent years.
While there are currently 639 anaerobic digestion plants in the UK according to figures from the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA) – double the number there were in early 2016 – only 45 of these are in industrial-sized factories.
That low figure has led to calls for the government to work with businesses to help them invest in on-site renewable energy.
‘At the risk of the UK falling behind other industrialised countries, the government, wastewater management industry and food & beverage sector need to work together to make anaerobic digestion a more appealing and accessible option for industrial-sized companies,’ Wilcox added.
In addition to increased funding and better support for manufacturers to help them make the switch to anaerobic digestion, Alpheus have also suggested the introduction of a new green energy product mark for manufacturers who invest in producing renewable energy.
With consumers increasingly conscious of manufacturers’ environmental credentials, the company says such a mark would incentivise and reward companies who decide to make the jump.