OPINION: ‘New government must support food waste recycling to reach its full potential’

Lee Dobinson, chief commercial officer at BioteCH4, highlights the lack of food waste recycling pledges in main party manifestos for the looming summer election.

OPINION: Next week, we will go to the polls. Many green policies have been talked about on the campaign trail. There has been a strong focus on developing renewable energy  sources, reducing people’s energy bills and protecting nature. All worthy causes.

But neither of the main parties has said what they will do to support recycling, particularly their position on food waste recycling. This is surprising given the massive potential that recycling food waste has in reducing carbon emissions, generating clean renewable base load energy and moving closer to net zero.

In fact, the words ‘recycling’ or ‘recycle’ are only mentioned once in the Conservative manifesto and are not even included in the Labour manifesto – although Labour says they are ‘committed to reducing waste by moving to a circular economy.’ Concerningly, anaerobic digestion doesn’t even feature in the renewable energy mix being considered by our politicians.

While we do not claim that recycling and reducing food waste should be the only thing on the agenda, it is disappointing and frustrating to see them not given the proper attention they deserve, especially after the current government finally introduced the Simpler Recycling scheme and confirmed that all businesses should be collecting food waste by March 2025, with local authorities following a year later.

Anaerobic Digestion (AD) is the most sustainable way of recycling large amounts of unavoidable food waste. It is estimated that the UK’s AD industry could generate 7.1 billion m3 of biomethane a year, enough to heat 5.5 million homes by 2030.

Local authorities have less than two years to implement collection schemes. For some, this will be straightforward, but for most councils that do not already collect food waste, this will be a challenge. The procurement of new vehicles, bins and the recruitment of more staff is timely and costly, and many are already facing financial gaps in their budgets. For businesses, the deadline to recycle food waste is much sooner. Despite the cost benefits of recycling food waste, some businesses perceive the investment needed to implement it, as an unnecessary burden. This is often not borne out in reality.

Whoever forms the new government must actively support the implementation of the regulations to implement nationwide separate food waste collections with recycling via anaerobic digestion, to ensure this opportunity does not fall by the wayside.

The AD industry also needs this vital support. The sector is currently delivering 19% of our full potential. But with more support, we could have the capacity to deliver 30% of the carbon savings necessary for the UK to meet the country’s targets for 2030, the equivalent emissions saving of taking all of Great Britain’s operating HGVs off the road.

Food waste is an environmental problem and AD has the power to solve that problem head-on. We urge the new government to not forget that.

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