Anaerobic digestion scheme key to cutting food and packing in landfill

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Anaerobic digestion

A UK Government initiative on anaerobic digestion that includes using food and bioplastic packaging waste to create energy could play a key role in helping cut landfill volumes, said an industry body.

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) welcomed the government report called Developing an Implementation Plan for Anaerobic Digestion,​ saying it could make a vital contribution to its own bid to send zero food and packaging to landfill from factories from 2015 onwards.

The study, released yesterday by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), details ways in which anaerobic digestion could be boosted in the UK. Anaerobic digestion breaks down organic matter, such as food waste and animal manure, to produce biogas - a renewable energy source for heat, power and transport. Using anaerobic digestion also keeps organic waste out of landfill, which in turn cuts greenhouse gas emissions, said Defra.

Food waste and bioplastics

The report highlights food waste as an important raw material for anaerobic energy plant, with food processors, as well as the food service and retail sectors singled out as likely as among the most important contributors. The document also added that “anaerobic digestion of renewable bioplastics offers businesses a useful option for dealing with food packaging waste”​.

Increasing collection rates of food waste from all sources is labelled as a priority by author Steve Lee, chief executive of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management. Any system must be cost effective and produce high quality material, he added.

Logistical challenges

Defra and the Government’s Waste and Resource Action Programme (WRAP), said the best way to treat food waste is to separately collect and treat it via anaerobic digestion. But the bodies acknowledged there were still relatively few collection schemes as well as technical issues in running anaerobic digestion plants on feedstocks containing a high proportion of nitrogen, such as food waste, that still needed to be addressed.

Government support vital

However, while the FDF greeted the initiative with enthusiasm, it urged the Government to provide sufficient support for the measures to turn theory into reality.

“Anaerobic digestion will make a key contribution to the goal set out in the Food and Drink Federation’s Five-fold Environmental Ambition of seeking to send zero food and packaging waste to landfill from factories from 2015,”​ said FDF Director of Sustainability and Competitiveness Andrew Kuyk.

He added: “Some of the key priorities highlighted in the report include the importance of developing a proportionate, risk-based regulatory framework for anaerobic digestion; establishing cost effective systems for the separate collection of food waste from both commercial and municipal sources; and promoting greater awareness of the opportunities afforded by this technology among communities, particularly to increase participation in separate food waste collection schemes.”

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