Landfill food waste ban set to raise manufacturers' costs

By Sarah Britton

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food waste Anaerobic digestion Biodegradable waste

Landfill food waste ban set to raise manufacturers' costs
Food and packaging could be used as fuel to generate electricity and cut energy bills

A ban on landfilling biodegradable waste - including food - as part of the government's Waste Strategy could hit manufacturers hard unless they can find alternative disposal routes, such as waste-to-energy conversion.

Over 90% of the 5.7Mt of commercial and industrial food waste goes to landfill, said David Mottershead, head of policy and processes at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' (DEFRA's) Waste Strategy Division. As food and packaging waste degrades it emits methane - a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

While a ban on sending food waste to landfill would cause a costly headache for manufacturers, government support for using anaerobic digestion (AD) - where waste is converted into a biogas which can be used to generate electricity - could offer a solution.

"There is strong encouragement for anaerobic digestion," said Mottershead. He added that the Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP) would like to talk to food manufacturers keen to build AD plants and share them with local authorities.

"Now is the time to get involved in shared municipal facilities," said Mottershead. Running an AD site could even be profitable, he added, as a fee of around £60/t could be charged for using it. "There's also the double benefit of not having to pay landfill tax and generating energy."

Greencore, Northern Foods and Greggs are already involved in a collaborative waste-to-energy project, which uses a mechanical process to convert waste to biomass fuel. The Encycle Project, which is expected to come on stream next year, can handle plastic and glass packaging as well as food to produce fuel which is then converted into electricity. As well as biomass fuel, around 10% of inert material is generated as a by-product of the process developed by Inetec, which could be used in road construction. Greencore plans to use the electricity generated to power its Selby site.

"We'd like to think we are ahead of the game [in energy from waste]," said Greencore spokesman Jonathan Grant-Nicholas. "From our point of view the biggest incentive is not to have the waste in the first place."

Even if sending food waste to landfill isn't banned, the landfill tax will have doubled to £48/t by 2011 and firms that don't find alternative disposal routes will be looking at huge cost increases, said Mottershead.

The diversion of biodegradable municipal waste from landfill is a key objective under the EU Landfill Directive. By 2010, biodegradable waste going to landfill must be 75% of the amount disposed in 1995; by 2013 this must be reduced to 50%; and by 2020 to 35%.

WRAP is publishing a report on biodegradable and compostable packaging this month.

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