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Food waste recycling through anaerobic digestion key to achieving carbon and cost savings says ADBA

The Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA) has launched its latest Biogas Briefing entitled Food Waste Recycling – Anaerobic Digestion: the net zero lever for Local Authorities, which provides an analysis of the simple but powerful benefits of Local Authorities adopting AD as a food waste recycling option to achieve net zero targets and save taxpayers’ money. At national level, it also strengthens energy security and helps restore soil health.

The briefing conveys in stark details the environmental impact of leaving food waste to rot on landfill – where it emits harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – or burning it in an incinerator, which is another unsustainable method of treatment. Instead, collecting this organic waste and taking it to AD will transform it into:

  • Biomethane – a green gas suitable for domestic heat or transport fuel, which can also be used to generate renewable electricity.

  • Bio-CO2 – a stream of gas suitable for industrial use (eg carbonating drinks) or storage, thus reversing GHG emissions.

  • A biofertiliser (digestate), which recovers the nutrients found in all food waste and returns them to land, thus restoring soil health.

These outputs not only help capture harmful gases, displace fossil equivalents, and reduce overall GHG emissions, but producing them could also save the average local authority between £1.4 million and £1.8 million on a weight by weight basis, annually. Where implemented, separate food waste collections have also led to a reduction in the amount of

food wasted which also delivers reductions in GHG emissions. ‘Over 300 local authorities have declared climate emergencies and set net zero targets,’ said Charlotte Morton, ADBA chief executive. ‘They acknowledge that they need to act on the causes and impacts of climate change. Recycling food waste through anaerobic digestion (AD) turns ‘waste’ into valuable, low carbon bioresources that can deliver a 6% cut in the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. Not only that, but AD is also a cost effective, circular solution which, by ushering a sustainable waste management system and changing behaviour, will benefit the whole community in the long term.’ England has failed to achieve its target to recycle 50% of household waste by 2020, achieving just 44%, and the government has recognised that ‘rolling out separate food waste collections for households will significantly impact overall recycling rates in England’.

Donna Cox, representing the Local Authorities in her role at Bracknell Forest Council at the online launch event, commented: ‘This year has been a huge success in terms of waste and recycling in Bracknell Forest. Thanks to the hard work of our waste team and our residents, over 6031 tonnes of food waste has been collected and recycled. This monumental effort has prevented the equivalent of 3719 tonnes of CO2e from entering the atmosphere. Thank you to everyone who is doing their best to recycle more and waste less. By separating our recyclable waste more efficiently and reducing our residual waste, we really can make a difference.’

Another speaker, David McKee, CTO of the lead sponsor for the briefing BioCapital, said: ‘Anaerobic Digestion of food waste holds the key to unlock the path to help us meet net zero targets, via renewable electricity, cleaner transport fuel, decarbonising the gas grid, replenishing our soil health and renewable CO2. The potential of AD can no longer be overlooked, and I call on the support of our Local Authorities and businesses to use AD as the key to unlock our sustainable future.’ He was joined by Brian Farrell, of Ashfords, a law firm with a specialist clean energy and resource management division, also sponsor of the briefing, who concluded: ‘New regulations will increase the volume of food waste available to be treated by anaerobic digestion (AD). AD can help us drive progress towards net zero targets, contribute to energy security through biogas production and – completing the circle – create fertiliser to support further food production, using the current gas infrastructure (boilers, grid network etc) already in place across the UK. The climate case and cost saving potential is clear, ensuring that AD rises up the agenda as an important part of the overall solution, as Local Authorities review their waste and recycling operations and contracts before the 2023 rule change.’

The UK generates 9.5 million tonnes of food waste per year – 69% of which comes from households. The average household produces 243 kg of food waste every year.
The waste sector accounts for 4% of all greenhouse gases emitted in the UK – 75% of which come from landfill – the government is considering banning sending organic matter to landfill by 2028.
One million tonnes of food waste is sent to landfill each year, releasing 24,000 tonnes of methane – the equivalent of emissions from 950,000 cars.
Only 20% of food waste is recycled either through AD or composting.


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