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  • Richard Todd

How can we recycle mixed food waste

England generates a staggering 23 million tonnes of household waste annually.

Whilst the Government recently announced the Common Sense to Recycling Scheme which promises weekly food collections for most households by 2026, this reality only applies where local authorities are not already contracted for waste collection and disposal. Consequently, the rollout of food collection in certain areas may be delayed by up to 15 years.

In 2021, 512,000 tonnes of food waste were separately collected. Although food waste is on the decline, organic waste still constitutes 30% of domestic waste production, amounting to approximately 6.9 million tonnes per year.

Currently, the UK government’s target is to ban biodegradable waste from landfill by 2028. However, the question remains: where does this missing organic waste end up, and is England potentially squandering an opportunity to recycle this valuable resource?

Let’s delve into the current facts:

1.      Anaerobic Digestion (AD): Food waste that is separately collected can undergo anaerobic digestion. In this process, the food is broken down, and methane is extracted. The resulting solid digestate, if sufficiently clean, ceases to be waste and can be used as an organic fertilizer on land.

2.      Waste-to-Energy Plants: Many waste-to-energy plants utilize household waste as fuel. However, before incineration, the waste must be processed. It is shredded to a regulated size and sieved to remove the fraction smaller than 20mm. This smaller fraction constitutes the organic portion, which is too wet to burn effectively and lacks significant calorific value.

3.      Carbon Emissions: Food waste is primarily composed of carbon. When burned, it produces carbon dioxide.

4.      Non-Source Segregated Organic Waste: The organic waste removed from household waste is considered non-source segregated. Although it possesses the same methane potential as source-segregated waste, the resulting digestate remains waste and cannot be used on agricultural land. The only options are disposal in non-agricultural restoration schemes or landfill sites.

As England strives to meet its waste reduction goals, finding sustainable solutions for organic waste remains critical. By maximizing recycling opportunities and minimizing landfill use, we can better manage this valuable resource and contribute to a greener future.

The future challenge is to develop a safe system to process non-source segregated organic waste, so that derived compost can be used as a fertiliser on agricultural land. Therefore replacing harmful inorganic fertilisers.

At Allium we have commenced a three-year programme, supported by the Environment Agency, DEFRA, National Farmers Union and Renewable Energy Association. To create a consistent, stabilised and safe compost, produced from non-sources segregated food waste, that can be used on agricultural land as a fertiliser.


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