How can anaerobic digestion help solve the Christmas food waste problem?

Christmas is a time to eat, drink and be merry, but it’s also a time of excess. In this blog, we share some Christmas food facts for the UK and explore the role of anaerobic digestion (AD) in reducing food waste at Christmas.

How much food is wasted at Christmas?

The UK is Europe’s biggest producer of food waste, binning around 4.5 million tonnes of food each year that could have been eaten,[1] according to the climate action NGO, WRAP.

Around 70% of this food waste comes from people’s homes[2] and cashes in at a staggering £17 billion, or around £80 per month for a family.

At Christmas time, the waste we produce increases by almost a third compared to the rest of the year.

Supermarkets encourage us to buy more than we need with festive specialities and two-for-one offers on mince pies. In fact, 40% of groceries sold during the festive period are ‘on sale’ which promotes impulse buying[3]. Two thirds of shoppers admit to buying too much food, which ends up in landfill.

Did you know that one caddy of food waste can produce enough electricity to power a TV for two hours?[4]

Although there are plans to collect our food waste for recycling, the majority of our food waste goes to landfill. It emits 25 million tonnes of greenhouse gases[5], of which a large amount is methane. Methane is 25 times more harmful to the environment than CO2 because of the heat it traps within the atmosphere.[6]

Anaerobic digestion (AD) is the process where organic matter is digested by bacteria that produce biomethane as a by-product. This resulting green gas can be burnt for electricity or it can be piped into the gas grid to power homes, replacing fossil fuel derived gas.

Watch our animated video to find out more about the anaerobic digestion process: What is AD?

One tonne of food waste could produce up to 300kWh of energy. If all of the UK’s food waste was digested in AD plants, it could produce enough energy to power 350,000 homes.[7]

The small town of Attleborough in Norfolk has become one of the UK’s first green communities by providing their waste to a new AD plant. This food waste produces biogas which is directly pumped into the gas grid and provides 100% of the 4,000 local homes’ gas needs for most of the year. You can read more about the Attleborough plant here.

How to reduce food waste this Christmas

Although AD can turn food waste into biogas, it’s important to reduce the amount of food that is wasted.

Here are our top tips to cut down on food waste in your home this Christmas.

  • Freeze food that is close to its use-by date
  • Keep your fridge below 5°C to keep food fresher for longer
  • Learn the difference between ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates
  • Learn to love leftovers: visit the Love Food, Hate Waste Christmas Collection website for leftover recipe inspiration
  • Where possible, plan ahead for meals and only buy what you need
  • Consider how ingredients can go further by buying common ingredients that can make multiple meals
  • Buy misshapen fruits and vegetables – they still taste the same but are often significantly less expensive!
  • After going to the supermarket, make sure you place new food towards the back of the fridge, so you reach for the oldest produce first
  • Be realistic about the amount of food you are going to consume and consider donating food that is likely to be wasted to friends or family
  • Excess food can always be donated to food banks to feed those less fortunate this Christmas

According to UK Gov, 7% of people in the UK live in food insecure households[8]. If you have been gifted good quality, unopened food that you are unlikely to eat, consider donating it to a food bank. To find your local food bank, visit the Trussell Trust website.

 

[1] https://wrap.org.uk/media-centre/press-releases/christmas-all-wrapped-wrap-shows-how-have-sustainable-christmas-and

[2] https://wrap.org.uk/media-centre/press-releases/christmas-all-wrapped-wrap-shows-how-have-sustainable-christmas-and

[3] Christmas Waste Facts – It’s Not Very Jolly (businesswaste.co.uk)

[4] Christmas Waste Facts – It’s Not Very Jolly (businesswaste.co.uk)

[5] Food Waste Facts and Statistics – The Eco Experts

[6] Food waste facts 2023 (businesswaste.co.uk)

[7] https://www.biogas-info.co.uk/about/faqs/

[8] https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-9209