We bin 10 Wembleys full of food a year – what a waste of energy

Wales has shown the way by collecting and reusing kitchen rubbish, but most UK councils lag behind

A A A

Thousands of tons of food are being needlessly buried or burned as councils across the UK fail to meet recommendations on how to deal with biodegradable waste. An
Independent on Sunday survey of local authorities has revealed that while the vast majority collect garden waste for composting, less than half pick up food waste separately from general household rubbish.

As a result, food waste that could be used for composting or to generate power is being sent for landfill or incineration. But there is growing opposition to the spread of a new generation of incinerators across the UK. More than 80 sites have been earmarked as part of a so-called "dash for ash", which could see the amount of household waste that is burnt more than double.

Many councils also warn that public sector cutbacks mean they can no longer afford to implement rubbish separation and collection plans.

UK households throw away enough food each year to fill 10 Wembley stadiums, according to Wrap, the government-funded waste reduction adviser. Yet only 173 of 380 councils who responded to the survey offer any form of kerbside food collection. While all councils in Wales collect food separately, other UK countries are lagging behind.

EU guidelines require countries to establish prevention – reducing the amount of rubbish from the outset – as a top priority in waste management. After that, priorities include preparing material for reuse or other recovery (such as energy recovery); and, lastly, disposal (such as landfill). Wrap suggests UK households throw away around 8.3 million tons of food and drink – worth £12bn – every year.

Michael Warhurst, of Friends of the Earth, said: "We would urge the Government to fully enforce the hierarchy so that councils have to recycle food waste. If the Government is serious about being the greenest ever it should be doing this rather than having the European Parliament constantly going on about different collection methods."

An IoS survey found that all 22 Welsh councils offer a separate food or combined food and garden waste collection. About 60 per cent of homes have access to food waste services and the Welsh Assembly has committed £34m between 2009 and 2011 to extend collections to every household.

Jane Davidson, the Assembly's environment minister, said waste prevention and home composting were first steps, but that the country wanted to ensure that thrown-away rubbish is utilised as far as possible. "This is a classic invest/save argument. The regulations are tightening and those authorities ahead of the game put themselves in a better position," she said. It is "short-sighted" to make cuts in the short term, with councils making decisions for 25 years in the future when deciding about waste.

However, some local councils argue that the cost of introducing food collections is prohibitive. A spokesman for East Lothian, where food constitutes 10 per cent of recyclable waste, estimates it would cost about £1m per year to introduce a food waste collection for its 40,000 households.

The IoS survey found just over a third of Scotland's 32 councils offer food waste collections, including small-scale trials. A Scottish government spokesman said it was consulting on measures, including banning food from landfill, which would complement work by the government-funded body, Zero Waste Scotland, to collect food waste, develop composting and anaerobic digestion facilities and develop markets for recycled material.

In Northern Ireland, 65 per cent of its 26 councils offer food recycling and officials expect this to increase. The Northern Ireland Executive's environment department last year made £5m available to councils to promote the development of recycling and composting infrastructure, with successful bids from 16 projects so far.

A spokesman said the department was also developing "higher aspirational targets" in excess of the EU directive commitment of recycling 50 per cent of household waste by 2020. In November, Wales became the first UK country to introduce statutory recycling and composting targets for local authorities. It aims to recycle 70 per cent of waste by 2025.

Only 41 per cent of the 300 English councils responding to the survey collect food separately. The research, conducted between last August and November, revealed huge disparities. For example, while two-thirds of eastern England's councils have food collections, none in the North-east do. Within eastern England, all Hertfordshire councils boast kerbside food recycling schemes, but only around a half in neighbouring Essex provide a similar service.

Some councils collect organic material separately but fail to compost it. Herefordshire sends garden waste collected through its kerbside scheme to landfill. However, garden waste taken to household waste sites is composted by a different contractor. A council spokeswoman said it was not easy to change long contracts.

The Isle of Wight sends separately collected food waste to its gasification plant to generate energy, following the closure of its contractor's in-vessel composting facility in 2009. A spokeswoman said it maintained the separate collection to record tonnage data and because it would be costly to withdraw the service and then have to reintroduce it should other facilities become available.

Most the councils surveyed treat separated food waste via a process called in-vessel composting. But, a Wrap report last year showed that anaerobic digestion – a source of 100 per cent renewable energy – is the preferable option for dealing with food waste. The process produces a methane-rich biogas that can generate heat and power, plus a soil improver. According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), there are 37 such plants in the UK, with another 60 planned. It suggests digesting one ton of food waste rather than sending it to landfill cuts greenhouse gas emissions and saves up to one ton of CO2 equivalent.

Lincolnshire County Council, which recycles just under 52 per cent of its rubbish, recently signed a 25-year contract to send "non-recyclable waste" – including food – to a £145m energy-from-waste facility at North Hykeham from mid-2013. Ian Taylor, waste operations team leader, said the main drawback of anaerobic digestion was that it dealt only with food, and Lincolnshire faced a bigger problem with other non-recyclable waste ahead of EU fines for excess landfilling and rising landfill tax. Its seven district councils would also need to make investments "beyond their means" to create separate food collection systems, he added.

The coalition has pledged to increase anaerobic digestion, with Defra due to publish an action plan this year.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links