Defra on food waste and anaerobic digestion

Food 2030, the Government’s food strategy, makes tackling food waste one of its six priorities. The goal is to avoid food waste as much as possible at every stage in the supply chain – from production and manufacturing through distribution and retail to waste-conscious consumers. This must be done in ways that do not compromise food safety.

Where surplus food is unavoidable it should be valued, not wasted. This can be done though redistributing safe food to vulnerable groups. There are already charities operating in the UK that do this, for example last year Fareshare was able to provide 7.4 million meals to homeless people, as well as children and elderly people living in poverty, using surplus food that would have otherwise been wasted. Where the food can’t be eaten it should be used to generate fertiliser or energy using anaerobic digestion technology.

Food waste must also be tackled internationally. In some developing countries up to 30 per cent of crops can be wasted due to problems with harvesting, transporting and storing food. Development assistance for better storage facilities and infrastructure must transform this situation to help meet the growing global demand for food.

What is anaerobic digestion?
Anaerobic digestion (AD) is a proven renewable energy technology that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It involves capturing methane from the decomposition of organic materials, such as food waste.

In the UK we waste 18 – 20 million tonnes of food and drink a year. Wasting food and drink contributes to climate change both through the unnecessary emissions from supplying the food and the methane released when it decomposes in landfill.

An alternative to landfill is sending food waste to an AD plant for treatment.  

What is the potential of anaerobic digestion?
Treating just 5.5 million tonnes of food waste by anaerobic digestion could generate between 477 and 761 GWh of electricity each year – enough to meet the needs of up to 164,000 households.  In addition, the majority of food waste ends up in landfill, where it breaks down to produce methane – this is over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a climate change gas. Every tonne of food waste digested rather than sent to landfill could save between 0.5 and 1 tonne of CO2 equivalent.

For more information what you can do at home to combat food wastage have a look at WRAP’s website.

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  1. Rupert Dick
    Posted 26 February, 2010 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    Two concerns with what I think is definitely needed.

    1. We shouldn’t be wasting food especially in the home. Changes should be made to the Display by Date and Best Before Date which too many people take as gospel.

    2. Building these anaerobic digestion in the area creates a beast that needs feeding. In the Cambridge area we had experience of this with waste to energy for the cement industry where Cemex started importing waste from abroad to feed their kilns.


  2. Tim Evans
    Posted 28 February, 2010 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Yes, AD is the best thing to do with food waste (provided there is sufficient feedstock to make AD financially viable) but you do nt metion the other aspect which is using the digestate to complete nutrient cycles and build soil organic matter. AD is not just an energy vitrue, it is also a conservation and recycling virtue.

    AD is not new. AD of sewage sludge and electricity genertion from biogas have been going on for 90 years. We don’t need to spend [waste] money on demonstration sites – it has already been demonstrated. What we do need is reform of [unnecessary] legislative barriers. We need to be able to co-digest all and any of the suitable biodegradable inputs. We need consistent output standards for digestate fit for use on land. We don’t need to duplicate the obligations that are already part of cross-compliance for the single [farm] payment scheme. We do need to remove the stealth tax currently imposed by UK government on using digestate on land.

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