REA says food waste collection ‘cost effective’

Separate food waste collections can provide a cost-effective service for local authorities and businesses, according to new modelling published by the Renewable Energy Association (REA).

The REA, which represents producers of renewable energy and promotes its use, released ‘The real economic benefit of separate biowaste collections’ report yesterday (19 May) at a parliamentary reception in London.

Only 10 per cent of food waste produced in the UK is currently recycled, and despite the legally binding agreement to increase the total recycling rate to a target of 50 per cent by 2020, the REA says that there is ‘no clear plan from government’ to increase this overall recycling rate above the current 45 per cent.

The report, which was sponsored by Olleco, a food waste and cooking oil collector, and was written for the REA by Eunomia Research & Consulting, suggests that introducing separate food waste collection can reduce waste management costs, reduce landfill emissions and, ultimately, increase the UK recycling rate.

The REA estimates that 30 per cent of residual household waste is comprised of food waste. Despite this, 45 per cent of English local authorities offer no separate food waste facility, and many businesses producing large amounts of food waste do not collect it separately.

Publication of the report forms part of the REA’s ‘Making Food Waste Count’ campaign to increase separate food waste collections. It examines the costs involved of introducing a mandatory source separation of food waste with the aim of increasing such collections in England, increasing the recycling rate and supporting the growing green gas industry.

‘One of the biggest opportunities to increase recycling in England’

In 2014, legislation was introduced in Scotland to make separate collection of food waste mandatory for local authorities and food businesses, which the report says has reduced costs and improved collection services.

With similar legislation being introduced in Northern Ireland and Wales planning to do the same (having already offered separate food waste collections to nearly all households), the REA is calling for legislation to cover English local authorities to be put in place.

In the report’s foreword, Fergus Healy, Food Waste and AD Director of Olleco, claims the expansion of separate food waste collections is ‘one of the biggest opportunities to increase recycling in England’. Healy believes the slow implementation of such measures is due mainly to cost considerations.

The Eunomia report was therefore commissioned to investigate whether savings made from the cheaper treatment of food waste relative to residual waste are enough to warrant the use of separate collections.

The study found that many factors involved in separate collection reduced waste management costs. According to the report:

  • separate food waste collections require fewer residual waste collections;
  • the weight of general waste collections is significantly reduced, and therefore so is the cost of landfill disposal due to lower gate fees;
  • gate fees for the separately collected food waste are significantly lower at anaerobic digestion or composting facilities compared to landfill sites. 

For those authorities still operating a weekly residual collection, it was shown that changing to a fortnightly residual service and introducing a weekly food waste collection could save £10-20 per household each year, according to WRAP data.   


Other benefits highlighted in the report include the increase in the production of ‘green gas’, which is produced through the anaerobic digestion (AD) of food waste. Green gas, which is almost carbon neutral, can be used to generate heat, electricity and can be used as fuel in heavy goods vehicles.

Its production is on the increase according to bioeconomy consultancy NNFCC, which reports that there are currently 316 farm-based or waste-fed AD plants in the UK, an increase from the 78 plants operating in 2012.

The REA believe enough plants will be operational by the end of this year to produce around 3.5 terrawatt hours (TWh) per year, with 40 TWh per year estimated to be produced by 2035.

‘Overwhelming economic and environmental case’ for separate collections

Commenting at the launch of the report, Nina Skorupska, Chief Executive of the REA, said: “Separate food waste [collection] is a cost-effective policy that can help us hit our recycling target, reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions, and improve our energy security in one fell swoop.

“Many regions, including Scotland, Wales, and many regions in Europe, have realised the benefits of not letting food waste go to waste. There’s a range of companies now in the UK that are producing their own renewable heat and power from it, or even fuelling vehicles with it.

“With our 2020 recycling target fast approaching, now is the time for England to step forwards, where few businesses and only about half of local authorities are enjoying the benefits from collecting biowaste separately.”

Healy added: “We throw a shocking amount of food waste into landfill simply because we haven’t collected and treated it separately. Our new report provides an overwhelming economic and environmental case for doing so. We believe that the collection and separate treatment of food waste will play a significant part in helping the UK achieve its 2020 recycling targets.”

‘The real economic benefit of separate biowaste collections’ is available from the REA website.