Food waste opportunities for the fresh produce sector

Chris Negus, Business Development Manager, Privilege Finance

The UK food and drink sector produces 10 million tonnes of food waste every year1. The majority of this is currently filling limited landfill space, but what are the opportunities for food waste being used in ‘green’ energy production?

An increasing number of food producers and retailers are moving towards becoming more sustainable by investigating the use of anaerobic digestion (AD) to process their food waste and produce renewable energy.

However, with the current level of waste being produced there is more that can be done to capitalise on the opportunities for energy from fresh produce waste across the UK.

Recycling fresh produce waste

Sustainable waste management is best viewed as a cyclical system. For example, AD offers fresh produce growers a way to dispose of waste in a more environmentally friendly way, generate energy, and use the by-products from the process as a natural fertiliser.

As the trend continues of more AD plants being built to inject biomethane into the grid, there is also a growing surplus of carbon dioxide (CO2), which is left over from the biogas upgrading process.

There are exciting new opportunities arising as companies investigate using this CO2 to increase photosynthesis in greenhouses, as well as reducing the use of artificial fertilisers through spreading digestate.

Although fresh produce growers in rural areas may find it difficult to access AD plants close to industrial sites, a consortium of food producers can work with a local waste management to overcome this.

Savings made from recycling waste

In addition to the improvements to green credentials that diverting food waste to AD can bring, there can also be significant cost savings for the companies producing the waste.

AD plant gate fees are typically between £10/t and £30/t, which is significantly lower than the current landfill tax of £84/t.

For a fresh produce grower looking to improve their bottom line sustainably, by diverting waste from landfill, a good place to start would be by contacting a local waste management company to discuss opportunities for working together.

1 http://www.wrap.org.uk/food-waste-reduction