Food waste – a weighty issue

Giles Whiteley, CEO of Specialist Waste Recycling, discusses the environmental and financial benefits of segregating your food waste.

Last year WRAP, the government funded Waste and Resources Action Programme, identified the hospitality industry as one with a very large opportunity to improve the way it manages waste.

Research highlighted the following key statistics:

  • The hospitality industry produces 3.4 million tonnes of waste each year
  • Only 48% is recycled, reused or composted
  • The majority of the remainder  could be recycled
  • This could save 950,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions
  • And save £724 million in waste bills

In the summer of 2012 WRAP launched a voluntary agreement for the hospitality industry with the aim of addressing the opportunity for improvement and benefits that exist.  Signatories will be agreeing to strive to meet two targets: A waste prevention target to reduce food and associated packaging waste arising by 5% the by end of 2015 and a waste management target to increase the overall rate of food and packaging waste being recycled, sent to anaerobic digestion (AD) or composted to at least 70% by the end of 2015.

One year on, focus is very much on food waste and associated packaging and whilst there are genuine benefits to be derived, there are also some challenges and perceptions within the hospitality industry that are barriers to progress. In a report on green behaviours within the industry that was commissioned by Gram (a refrigeration company) and published this summer, a few statistics stood out.  Whilst 78% of the hospitality businesses surveyed said that they would like to be greener, 48% said that they didn’t think they could afford to be as green as they would like and only 10% thought that they could gain a cost saving by recycling food waste.

Efficient, smart waste management will reduce the overall waste bill of a company. That is a fact. Food waste is cheaper to dispose of per tonne than general waste. So how is it that when segregated food waste collections, are implemented it can in some cases have the effect of increasing waste bills?  This is definitely the cause of confusion. How can something be cheaper and more expensive at the same time?

The answer is in the way bin collections are charged by waste companies. Until recently the majority of waste companies have based their charges on an average weight for each container size.  For a standard 1100ltr general waste bin this is normally around 70kg, but when food waste is put into general waste bins, they very quickly become much heavier; 120kg is common and 200kg is easily achieved. Traditionally onsite weighing of bins has not been common practice amongst waste management companies, hence extra weight in bins has often not been identified, meaning anything over the contracted average bin weight has essentially been free.

Free is a very hard price to beat and is the reason why historically, implementing segregation of food for collection has caused waste costs to rise. Whilst many hospitality companies have been able to benefit from average weight charging, this situation it is set to end as change is afoot.

Due to the increasing costs of disposal, waste companies can no longer ignore the additional costs that they are incurring and most have installed or are planning to install weighing and reporting technology in their vehicles. This means that if your bins are 120kg you will be charged for 120kg. As general waste is twice the cost of segregated food to dispose of it rapidly starts to make sense to implement a segregated food collection.

The good news is that more and more facilities to recycle food waste (typically into energy and fertilizers) are coming into operation around the country, and will have the positive effect of reducing the associated logistics cost and increasing competition. This will in turn reduce the cost of emptying a food waste bin.

In addition to this in Scotland, as of 1st January 2014, anyone who produces more than 50kg of food waste per week will be required, by law, to segregate it from general waste.

There is another and arguably more compelling reason than bin costs or legislation to separate out your food waste and it is a simple one; to know what is being wasted.  If you think the cost of emptying a food bin is high, try calculating the cost of filling it.  To fill a bin with something as relatively inexpensive as value baked beans would cost hundreds of pounds; now consider all of the types of food that actually end up in the bin and what the actual value being thrown away might be. Literally thousands of pounds per tonne, and it comes direct from your bottom line.

Segregated food waste provides management information to identify how much is being wasted, where and how it arises as well as providing the opportunity to minimise it and ultimately improve your bottom line.  So perhaps the question to ask is “How expensive is not having segregated food waste”.

For help and advice on how to efficiently plan and manage your food waste strategy, contact Specialist Waste Recycling on 0800 038 0300 or visit

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