17 July 2018

Opinion: Time for direct action on food waste

Last week (9 July), the National Infrastructure Commission released its Infrastructure Assessment report which positioned food waste recycling as a key driver to achieving a low-carbon, low-cost future. Philip Simpson, commercial director at ReFood, provides his view.

OPINION: Every year, the UK throws away 14.8 million tonnes of food waste – 45 times heavier than the Empire State Building. Despite widespread initiatives to curb this volume, 40% is sent directly to landfill. Worrying still, insight from WRAP highlights that the vast majority is completely avoidable.

Since 2013 and the launch of our Vision 2020: Zero Food Waste to Landfill report, we have continued to promote food waste recycling as a sustainable and financially-viable alternative to general waste. The benefits are clear. If we were to realise zero food waste to landfill, in 2020 we could generate over 1.1tW of energy, 27 million fewer tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, return over 1.3 million tonnes of nutrient-rich fertiliser to farmland and save the public sector over £3.7 billion.


While Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have seized the opportunity, England continues to lag behind. Responsibility is devolved to district councils, who each dictate their own approach to waste management. Currently, only 19 councils provide food waste collection services.

Guidelines in the National Infrastructure Assessment are therefore welcome reading indeed. The report clearly identifies the cost benefit of recycling food waste – not just in comparison to landfill, but also incineration plants.

While waste management isn’t typically considered within UK infrastructure strategies, the National Infrastructure Committee insists a clear focus will deliver a low-carbon, low-cost future for decades to come, while making cities a safer, better place to live.


What’s more, alongside offsetting a considerable volume of greenhouse gases, recycling food waste via anaerobic digestion (AD) will help to craft a sustainable energy landscape. The commission recommends a target of 50% renewable energy generation by 2050, in order to prevent a sharp rise in utility bills, with AD working alongside numerous other technologies to help achieve this target.

The argument seems clear. We now need to see direct action from the government. Uncertainty, prevarication, short-term thinking and backtracking have continued to unnecessarily blight the industry. But with our quality of life, economic success and ability to respond to future challenges relying on the decisions we make today, we must listen to logic and embrace the opportunity.


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