SPECIAL REPORT: Government has committed to covering the cost of separate weekly food waste collections, a WRAP official influential in some of the thinking behind the Resources and Waste Strategy has told letsrecycle.com.
Peter Maddox, director of the sustainability body, spoke to letsrecycle.com about the Strategy’s approach to food waste, as well as ongoing and future projects in the pipeline for WRAP in a wide-ranging interview.
Describing the Strategy as “incredibly bold and ambitious”, Mr Maddox said he expected that any requirement for local authorities to provide weekly separate food waste collections will be funded.
“Defra have committed in their consultation to cover the costs,” he said. “Not just the operational costs but the transitional costs […] this is actually going to be legislated for [councils to collect food waste], because they don’t want food waste going to landfill.”
WRAP’s director acknowledged that finances are one of the “big barriers” to collections and recycling of food waste by local authorities, adding: “Where WRAP can help local authorities in facing up to these challenges is trying to work out how to implement it.”
“Where WRAP can help local authorities in facing up to these challenges is trying to work out how to implement it.”Peter Maddox
In terms of the need for weekly collections of food waste, Mr Maddox pointed out that under one third of food waste from households is unavoidable and he identified “a really big need” for collections from businesses and homes over the next two decades.
“We can’t say oh well it’s going to go down, let’s not bother with it: we have to deal with it,” he said.
In the Resources and Waste Strategy, Defra has suggested that treating food waste in anaerobic digestion plants is “the best environmental outcome”.
However, with the requirement for councils to offer free garden waste services pointed to as another potential option in the strategy, it has been suggested that local authorities could be motivated to commingle these two materials – prompting potential decisions over treatment technology.
“I don’t think Defra would say that they prefer any particular technology,” Mr Maddox said in response to this.
“Clearly, if you are doing separate food waste, then AD is a very good market for that and we know that for the AD industry in the UK the utilisation is not where it could be, there is capacity for more food waste in AD.”
But, WRAP’s director suggested there would still remain a place for in-vessel composting – for combined food and garden waste – in treating household waste.
“Some regions of the UK happen to have IVC infrastructure and clearly putting just food waste into IVC is not appropriate so there has to be some mechanisms to mix food waste with green garden waste.
He added that where regions already have significant IVC capacity “it makes perfect sense to use it”.
Mr Maddox explained that collecting food waste material separately from green garden waste is the best way to generate the highest tonnage of the material.
“Actually, the presentation of food waste separately is what really pushes capture up,” he said. “If a region wants to utilise its IVC capacity I think all the evidence suggests you still need your separate food waste collections, that’s the way you get your capture up and at some point before it goes into the IVC it needs to be mixed and so that would really be my recommendation. I think AD and IVC have both got a role to play.
“The important thing is keep it out of landfill; separate food waste collections every week.”
And, Mr Maddox was optimistic about how these changes to collections will be received by the public.
“The fact that we’ve been able to mainstream this whole idea of circularity in the last three years has been absolutely brilliant!
“We see our role now as really helping people find the solutions and to actually implement the action, so this greater awareness is absolutely brilliant. We’re delighted and we want to make it happen.“
During the interview Mr Maddox also discussed WRAP’s work with businesses on food waste prevention and other priority areas for the sustainbility body.
He explained that waste from businesses will be a key focus for WRAP in meeting future municipal recycling targets. “Business waste is going to be really important to address that,” he said.
“One of the things we’re going to be doing next year is looking at some of the ways of thinking about household and commercial recycling in more of an integrated way”.
WRAP is keen to work with other organisations across the waste sector. “We’re very open to partnership, collaboration, it’s only by working with others and together that we can really make a difference, because the scale of the problem is just huge.”
Recent work has included the Courtauld Commitment 2025 – a voluntary agreement aimed at reducing waste within the UK grocery sector – along with the launch of its Food Waste Reduction Roadmap.
On the Roadmap, Mr Maddox explained: “One of the biggest challenges for businesses is that they really want to do it but they don’t know how, and the most difficult thing is to measure. So we’ve worked with the sector and we’ve produced very specific focus guidance on how to do it.
“We are now trying to get 125 major food businesses, including retailers, by September to have targeted what they want to do, started measuring, and started taking action to reduce food waste and then they have to report that by September.”
And, going forward, Mr Maddox said there would be a continued focus on redistribution of food from food businesses, such as retailers. Recognising the progress made in recent years in this area, Mr Maddox explained that from 2015-2017 the amount of food redistributed increased by around 50% – to about 40,000 tonnes.
Mr Maddox said he was “particularly excited” with Defra’s appointment of Ben Elliot – co-founder of lifestyle group Quintessentially – as ‘Food surplus and waste champion.’
Mr Elliot’s role will be to work with businesses and other stakeholders from across retail, food manufacture, hospitality and food services, aiming to implement measures to tackle food waste from farm to fork, including encouraging redistribution, he said.
Another area where WRAP has focussed its efforts to tackle food waste is through its social media campaigns, such as ‘Love Food, Hate Waste’ with its latest message of ‘complEATing’.
“It’s literally about complEATing everything you eat,” Mr Maddox explained. “It’s been absolutely massive on social media, and that’s an example where local authorities want to reach out to their residents they can use these campaigns.”
Recycling in flats
WRAP has also been carrying out research on recycling in flats, in partnership with LWARB through Resource London – which he described as a “difficult problem to solve”.
“One of the challenges in this whole area is really understanding at scale what actually works. So I’ve been delighted with our Resource London partnership in London with LWARB.
“We’re doing a lot of work on flats at the moment […] testing out different services for food waste, different communications, really trying to find out what works and what doesn’t work. I think that’s an example of an excellent project that really could make a big difference and which we could learn from.”
The partnership launched its two-year project with the Peabody Housing Association last year. Insights from is research into improving recycling in flats were published last month (see letsrecycle.com story).
WRAP will be among the organisations presenting at the National Food Waste Conference at London’s Cavendish Conference Centre on 27 March, organised by letsrecycle.com. Click here for more details.