Sainsbury’s pioneers food recycling process

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Sainsbury's is to invest £9m over the next two years in establishing five food-recycling plants, as it bids to become the UK’s first retailer to entirely manage its own food waste.

The UK’s third largest grocer has signed a joint venture with Biogen- Greenfinch, a British specialist in food recycling, to construct the first site as part of Sainsbury’s plans to send no waste to landfill by the end of 2009 and save millions of pounds a year.

Sainsbury’s has been piloting the initiative at BiogenGreenfinch’s existing recycling plant in Bedfordshire, which receives waste from the grocer’s Northampton distribution centre. The joint venture’s first site will be the Westwoodplant in Northampton next year.

BiogenGreenfinch’s sites break down food waste by using anaerobic digestion technology. The low carbon technology is widely acknowledged to be the most sustainable way of recycling food waste to produce fertiliser and clean energy, including electricity.

Of the 80,000 tonnes of waste that Sainsbury’s currently sends to landfill each year, food waste accounts for three-quarters.

Sainsbury’s pays large sums each year for skips, compactors to compress the waste, and companies to deliver the waste to landfill sites. The grocer also pays hefty amounts in landfill tax.

Sainsbury’shasinitially forecast savings of £2m a year from the food recycling plants, but the long-term benefits could be greater. This is because it will receive revenues from the electricity generated by the food recycling plants,which will go into the National Grid, as well as from third-party companies paying to use the sites.

Lawrence Christensen, who is leading Sainsbury’s environmental action team, said: “These sites will become profit centres.”

Thegrocer is currently piloting what it calls “reverse logistics” from its Northampton DC, which serves 38 stores. In simple terms, the same lorries that deliver food to its stores also now bring back all the food waste in clear plastic bags to the DC. The food waste is then sent in lorries to Biogen- GreenFinch’s anaerobic digestion plant in Bedfordshire.

Mr Christensen said: “The waste to landfill costs about £7m a year. In additiontothe environmental impact, there is a big capital cost to the company.”

He added that in European countries, such as Germany and Sweden, about 22 per cent of energy is generated by technology, such as anaerobic digestion, but in the UK it is about 2 per cent.