Making waste useful
Anaerobic digestion – an ally to the food and drinks industry. By Lee Dobinson
With the highly anticipated Environment Bill receiving Royal Assent in November 2021 and many local authorities and councils declaring climate emergencies, the amount of activity relating to sustainability is going to increase rapidly over the next year. What to do with our waste – and in particular food waste – is high on everyone’s agendas.
In 2018 annual food waste within UK households, hospitality & food service (HaFS), food manufacture, retail and wholesale sectors was at around 9.5 million tons – which had a value of over £19 billion a year and would be associated with 36 million tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The majority of food waste comes from people’s homes (around 6.6 million tons (70 percent)) but with approximately 1.5 million tons (16 percent) coming from food manufacturers, 1.1 million tons (12 percent) from hospitality and food services) and 0.3 million tons (three percent) from the food retail industry, the food and drinks sector also plays its part.
Thankfully, there is a process that supports the industry to reduce food waste in a sustainable way.
Anaerobic digestion (AD) is the sustainable process of recycling large amounts of food waste and animal waste into green energy and biofertilizer, a nutrient-rich organic material used to fertilize farmland.
Food waste enters a building where it is processed into a liquid porridge, and then pumped into the anaerobic digestion plant. It is here that bacteria feed on the food waste, breaking it down to produce biogas. Biogas is captured and used as a fuel in CHP engines or cleaned and sent directly to the gas grid.
The waste is pasteurized to ensure that any pathogens are destroyed and the biofertilizer (digestate) is stored in large lagoons ready to be applied on farmland when the crops require it.
It’s eco-friendly – AD of food waste is the best solution to the waste disposal question and a positive, a low impact, step towards being more environmentally responsible.
It’s a renewable form of energy – The biogas created from AD is rich in methane and can be converted into renewable energy (heat, cooling and electricity) for onsite usage, or into use as a vehicle fuel. The vehicles that tip at our plants can then fill up on gas or electricity that we generate onsite, which would power their vehicle for the onward journey. This lessens the food producer’s dependency on fossil fuels, leading to saved costs and less air pollution. This also helps to capture methane gas that would otherwise have escaped into the atmosphere and contributed to global warming.
There are economic opportunities – It’s a low cost process with opportunities to make savings on landfill taxes.
Creating organic fertilizer for farmers – Farmers can use the high nutrient biofertilizer instead of fossil-fuel derived fertilizers ensuring a complete loop of carbon and energy capture.
In 2021, BioteCH4 handled 525,000 tons of waste across our sites, enough to fill the Royal Albert Hall nearly eight times, producing enough energy to power over 50,000 households. This complex biological process is an opportunity and an ally to the food industry which is facing calls to be more environmentally responsible.
The food and drinks industry is not the only sector with food waste hurdles to overcome. The Environment Act requires local authorities to collect different waste streams such as plastic, card, glass, food and garden waste separately. And, from 2023 it will be mandatory for every local authority to carry out a separate food waste collection.
Around 40 percent of authorities already provide food waste collection but many more are now working hard to implement new services to meet this legally binding target. The demand on sustainable and eco-friendly ways of eliminating food waste, like AD, are going to increase and the food and drinks industry must not be left behind.
To sum up
AD is a natural ally to the food and drinks industry and it is good to see that the process is being adopted across the sector. The total amount of waste, including food, packaging and other ‘non-food’ waste, produced each year at HaFS outlets is 2.871 million tons, of which 46 percent is recycled, sent to AD or composted.
But if we are to truly drive down the amount of food waste that is produced, more companies need to embrace it.
Businesses in the food and drink sector can convert their food waste into renewable energy, which they can effectively use themselves, while establishing process improvements and make savings on taxes. Turning to AD of food waste is the best solution to the waste disposal question and a positive step towards being more environmentally responsible.
For a list of the sources used in this article, please contact the editor
Lee Dobinson is Chief Commercial Officer at BioteCH4. BioteCH4 is the leading Anaerobic Digestion (AD) operator in the UK, transforming food waste for good. BioteCH4 has six sites across the country including a highly versatile waste transfer station, giving us the capacity to handle all volumes of food waste from a variety of sectors. BioteCH4 works closely with regulatory bodies such as DEFRA, the EA, and APHA and work closely with businesses to support them in creating, following, and implementing their own food waste reduction roadmap.
For further information, please visit: www.biotech4.co.uk