Questions about whether England would have the capacity to treat a potential influx of food waste once separate food waste collections become mandatory, were raised at the National Food Waste Conference yesterday (3 March).
Responding to capacity questions, the head of organics and natural capital at the Renewable Energy Association (REA) Jenny Grant, indicated that the sector would come under some pressure but that there are several factors at work to increase capacity in the coming years. And, she signalled that more investment would come to the sector with confirmation of weekly collections for England.
With weekly food waste collections due to become mandatory in England in 2023, questions focused on whether England has enough anaerobic digestion (AD) and In-Vessel Composting (IVC) facilities to cope with the additional volumes it may bring.
Ms Grant responded: “I’d say probably not, but it’s difficult to know. We have had had massive reductions in hospitality food waste over the last year so there is probably more capacity than last time it was surveyed.”
She pointed to research by resources charity WRAP completed in 2018, where spare capacity at AD facilities was at 500,000 tonnes.
She also explained how other factors may lead to availabile capacity in the future, such as the work being done by WRAP through its ‘Love Food Hate Waste’ brand, in its aim to reduce food waste overall.
Earlier in the session, Ms Grant said that mandatory food waste collections present a “great opportunity” for the organics sector to make sure it “gets things right”.
She explained: “It will enable investment in the sector to make sure we can build infrastructure to deal with increased volumes. It represents an opportunity for a more consistent approach across the country, to make communication and education between householders easier, and hopefully therefore increase participation.
“It’s really important we make it easy for people to understand what they need to do, and get the right from the start. We need to make sure information is available for them so that the right materials go in the right bins.”
It was also discussed whether capacity for food reuse from shops could be increased through other schemes, such as food redistribution.
This point was discussed by Steve Butterworth, CEO of Neighbourly, a company that works to redistribute surplus food to local communities.
In a discussion whether there may be increased capacity once enough food gets redistributed through schemes such as Neighbourly, Mr Butterworth said that while the company’s focus remains on getting food to those who need it “quickly”, there are certainly mechanics in place to do it on a larger scale.
Other topics discussed at the conference included the tighter restrictions for plastics contamination in feedstocks coming from the Environment Agency.
The regulation, which has caused widespread debate in the sector, will introduce a 0.5% limit of plastic contamination in feedstocks.
While the Agency is doing this through a phased approach, and the stages are still unclear, Ms Grant said that it is important to remember that if a site has a bespoke permit, it could have a “higher tolerance” for contamination in material that it can accept through the gate.
However, contamination of feedstocks is still an “ongoing concern” within the sector, and according to Ms Grant, the REA estimate typically around 1% to 5% of material coming in is contamination.
She explained: “It’s really costly for it to be removed. It costs around about £7 million a year for it to be sent to energy from waste or landfill, and plus the transport cost on top of that.”