Coalition calls for mandatory separate collection of food waste in England
Members of the new cross-industry ‘Food Waste Coalition’ include Greenpeace, the Sustainable Soils Alliance, Ecosurety, Wigan Council, the Renewable Energy Association, compostable products manufacturer Novamont, Iceland supermarkets and more.
Looking ahead to the government’s much-anticipated Resources and Waste Strategy, which is due sometime at the end of this year, the group is asking that mandatory food waste collections be included as a universal measure across the UK.
This would bring England in line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where all councils offer some form of food waste collection, either separate or mixed with garden waste. In Northern Ireland, the household waste recycling rate increased from 42.1 per cent to 47.1 per cent over the last three months of 2017, something the authorities attributed to the introduction of food waste collections in April 2017. All councils also recorded a decrease in their household landfill rate during that period.
In England, less than 50 per cent of households are offered an organic waste recycling service. At the same time, England’s recycling rate has been stalling at around 44 per cent since 2013, as the most recent ‘UK Statistics on Waste’ reveal – while Wales in particular has moved far ahead of its UK neighbours, independently reporting a 62.7 per cent recycling rate for the 12 months ending June 2018.
Food waste concerns shared by many
There have been repeated calls for mandatory food waste collections in England to boost the nation’s plateaued recycling rate, with the first assessment from the National Infrastructure Committee (NIC) stating that separate food waste collections should be introduced by 2025, to be processed in anaerobic digestion (AD) facilities. Combined with a 65 per cent municipal recycling rate, the NIC states that this could reduce the UK’s residual treatment capacity requirements by seven million tonnes.
With an increase in the UK’s AD capacity over the past few years, more councils collecting food waste would also offer a much-needed boost of feedstock to these plants.
In addition, the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) set out its support earlier this year for a system of four-weekly residual collections combined with weekly separate food waste collections, which it says would drive up recycling and control the costs of managing household waste.
However, a number of local authorities in England are struggling to fund their waste and recycling services; in June, for instance, Wolverhampton Council announced it was scrapping its food waste collections altogether in order to save money. In contrast, in Wales, the government has provided councils with more than £80 million of extra funding to improve recycling services this year alone. In England, it is clear that any mandatory measures on food waste would need to come with an associated boost in funding for cash-strapped councils.
Challenges ‘not insurmountable’ with government leadership
‘One of the key elements is getting food waste collection and treatment right, for a whole series of reasons: climate change, recycling targets, better management of dry wastes, renewable energy production, topsoil recovery through composting, waste reduction and prevention, new employment and not least, respecting the new Waste Framework Directive timeline... for mandatory food waste collections across the EU [by 31 December 2023].
‘We know and understand the challenges: LA funding, existing contractual obligations, collection methodologies, treatment options and others. But they are not insurmountable if the political will to tackle food waste is shown and central government leadership is given.’
The government has so far been loathe to commit to any mandatory measures on food waste collection for England, but Gove did suggest at a Conservative Party conference meeting that he was open to the idea. Moreover, the UK has indicated that despite Brexit uncertainty, it will remain obligated to the EU Circular Economy Package, which requires household food waste collections to be present across all member states by the end of 2023.
It appears that the Resources and Waste Strategy is undergoing a process of revision before publication ahead of the Christmas recess in Parliament. The document is expected to contain mention of reform of the UK’s producer responsibility system, but what it will say on food waste remains to be seen.