OPINION: Dean Hislop, chief executive of organic waste treatment firm Tamar Energy offers his view on local authority food waste collections.
Local authorities around Britain are under unprecedented pressure to save money and find ways to spread diminishing budgets across a wide range of services, without decreasing the service level provision. It would seem an almost impossible task. There have been reports that some councils are considering reducing or removing food waste collections as a way to make savings. However, this misses a valuable opportunity.
Evidence shows investing a relatively small amount into raising awareness of household food waste collections can prompt a significant increase in collection rates, which has the potential for considerable waste disposal cost savings.
There are some great examples of local authorities already capitalising on this. A trial run by Somerset Waste Partnership with 115,000 households saw food recycling rates leap by 20% last year. By using low-cost measures, like ‘no food waste’ stickers on refuse bins, the council estimated the trial alone saved an impressive £51,000. Similarly, with the help of WRAP funding, South Northants council will soon be rolling out a trial, using stickers, leaflets and adverts, to encourage food waste recycling.
These simple, cost-effective methods are delivering a rise in collection rates that save local authorities tens of thousands of pounds a year on disposal costs.
We shouldn’t forget that the UK has a legally-binding 50% recycling target by 2020 and food recycling is essential to reaching this. The AD industry has the capacity needed to meet this challenge and it needs to be matched by local and national government on collection services.
Enforcing the waste hierarchy is a vital first step. We’re absolutely clear that we should all waste less and that food that can be eaten, should be. After this, unavoidable food waste should go to AD or compositing. It’s economically, environmentally and socially irresponsible to send it to landfill or incineration.
AD offers other benefits, including energy security, through the ‘baseload’ (24/7) supply of renewable energy generated and the nutrient-rich biofertiliser produced by the process also displaces the need for more expensive, petro-chemical alternatives. It has been shown that this biofertiliser improves yield rates and cut costs when used in agriculture for future food production.
Instead of retreating from food waste collections, we’re hoping councils will look at ways to encourage people to recycle more. Campaigns don’t have to be far-reaching or cover whole counties – they work best when targeted at areas with low recycling rates.