What we can learn from Wales’ food waste plan

Written by: Phillip Simpson | Published:
Phillip Simpson, commercial director at ReFood
That's all well and good but AD can never recover the carbon emissions emitted from producing the ...

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Philip Simpson, commercial director at food waste management service ReFood, reflects on the Welsh government’s ambitious plan to halve food waste by 2025, and calls for England to follow suit.

In August, the Welsh government announced a strategy to halve food waste by 2025. Although not expected to be legally binding, the plan will help Wales to become one of the world’s leading recycling nations – a title driving significant economic and environmental benefit.

In fact, according to Wrap Cymru, achieving this ambition would build on an already impressive 60% recycling figure which is nearly 20% higher than England and 15% higher than Scotland.

This would help to save up to a possible £550 million in costs and prevent the unnecessary release of more than 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. In addition, successful implementation would see Wales reach its 2025 recycling target of 70% nearly eight years early.

The benefits are clear and, with a reported 12% decrease in domestic landfill disposal between 2009 and 2015 alone, the Welsh population seems thoroughly supportive of the cause.

A proven success

It is important to remember that such a ruthless goal doesn’t come in isolation. In fact, Wales’ long-term commitment to sustainable waste management has already seen the country lead the way with a number of innovative strategies – including a comprehensive ban on the landfilling of food waste.

Currently, the nation places second in Europe’s league tables for recycling rates and third worldwide. Total waste generated per household is nearly 10% less than the rest of the UK – a number that continues to periodically rise. By 2025, the government aims for a 70% recycling rate. By 2050, this target moves to 100%.

It’s no surprise then that, as such a forward-thinking example of environmental best practice, other nations are beginning to follow suit by implementing similar strategies to improve their sustainability credentials.

Scotland and Northern Ireland, for example, have both implemented food waste recycling legislation, as well as set high targets for other recycling streams including paper and plastic. Already, these tactics have proved successful, resulting in considerable financial savings as well as the more obvious environmental benefits.

England is now the UK’s only counterpart that doesn’t legislate the sustainable disposal of food waste. Responsibility instead lies with local authorities, which each devise, implement and manage regional waste strategies. According to the latest insight from WRAP, only 27% currently offer a food waste collection service.

The future of food waste

With landfill close to capacity, recycling targets looming and continued global pressure to improve environmental performance, it’s clear that a new approach to waste management is imperative. Continuing as we are is both unrealistic and ineffective.

Since launching our Vision2020 report in 2011, we have continued to lobby the government, encouraging local authorities in England to follow the lead of Wales by introducing a clear recycling framework including mandatory, separate collections of food waste. By taking this simple step, we believe that it will be possible to turn the issue of food waste on its head, realising its benefit as a valuable commodity.

Adhering to the food waste hierarchy, this would see unavoidable, inedible food waste recovered via anaerobic digestion (AD), which utilises the natural degradation process of food by extracting biogas and using it to generate heat and renewable energy. All in all, a much more effective waste management solution compared with relying on landfill.

If we were to achieve zero food waste to landfill nationwide, by 2020 alone it would be possible to generate more than 1.1Tw of energy, prevent 27 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and save the public sector more than £3.7 million. In essence, considerable benefits.

Where to from here?

The results achieved by Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland demonstrate that implementing such a strategy would be both viable and impactful, not just for the short term, but for the future. We can’t continue to overlook the obvious.

As local authorities continue to do battle with shrinking budgets and diminishing landfill, AD could become a key tool in the war on food waste. Ambitious targets such as those laid out by the Welsh Assembly are vital, and I hope to see England soon follow suit.

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That's all well and good but AD can never recover the carbon emissions emitted from producing the food in the first place.

A progressive strategy would look to reduce food waste and look to divert the food waste we do produce to other uses such as animal feed for pigs and chickens. This would reduce the environmental impact of food waste considerably more than would be the case with AD.

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