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Anaerobic Digestion: the changing landscape of food waste collections

The British Government has thrown its weight behind the anaerobic digestion (AD) sector, arguing that turning the millions of tonnes of waste produced in the country each year into energy was a no brainer. This is no surprise; the UK has committed to being net zero by 2050.1

Furthermore, the Government’s Environment Bill will mean the roll out of separate household food waste collections across the country by 2023 and goes one-step further by committing to eliminate food waste from landfill by 2030.2 Naturally prevention is the best cure, but where this is not achieved anaerobic digestion is the better option to incineration or disposal.

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has said it will work closely with local authorities to introduce these changes and create a framework to help identify where extra support is needed.2 However, there are no plans for the Government to financially support local authorities (LAs) to implement this directive before 2023 - by which time it will be too late to meet the deadline.

In March 2021, Charlotte Morton, Chief Executive of the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA) said “local authorities (LAs) are in the process of putting their waste management contracts in place now for the years to come, and they need Government funding now to be able to implement separate food waste collections by 2023.

"Lack of funding is preventing LAs from putting the infrastructure in place to collect this food waste, and being able to do so, as required by Government, by 2023. We cannot afford any delays if the UK is to meet its net zero targets by 2050 and hope this funding will feature in this week's Budget announcement."3

How can anaerobic digestion help?

Biogas is not only clean and green and helps to decarbonise the difficult areas to reach such as heat and transport, it is also a way of recycling organic waste that might have otherwise gone to landfill, helping restore nutrients and organic matter to soils and improve air quality.

Moving forward, LAs will need to consider food waste collection contracts and any financial penalties that could be incurred if these need amending or cancelled along with how best to deal with the food waste once collected.

As already noted, AD plants are a fantastic way to treat food waste and the financial models to construct and operate the plants need careful consideration.

Managing your risks with anaerobic digestion insurance

Once the final decision has been reached on the model you wish to adopt, it is vital that the entire chain understands and mitigates risks. Anaerobic digestion plants, which are constructed and operated correctly, work extremely well and are very robust. However, they are in essence power plants and can have the same complexities, which you see in much larger power plants.

In order to obtain full due diligence, the AD Certification Scheme should be reviewed and looked to be implemented. Therefore, when entering into the development of your plant, you need to consider the four stages of your project which are:

  • conception and development
  • construction
  • operation
  • decommissioning.

There are potential risks and renewable energy insurance considerations at each stage of the project lifecycle.

Conclusion

With mandatory food waste collections coming into effect in England in 2023, it is imperative this subject is firmly on the table. With a recent Government consultation on household and business recycling, which consistently found that if all LAs provided kerbside food waste collection the amount of food waste collected would increase by 1.35 million tonnes by 2029 - reducing greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 1.25 million tonnes per year.2

Add to this the benefits AD plants and the industry can bring to jobs and the circular economy. Plus, public opinion and our obligation to mitigate climate change, then food waste treated by AD ticks all these boxes.

Most importantly, when you begin to engage on delivering your project ensure you seek advice from experienced professionals who have a proven track record in this sector.

 

Sources: 

1 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-becomes-first-major-economy-to-pass-net-zero-emissions-law
https://deframedia.blog.gov.uk/2020/02/10/household-food-waste-to-be-collected-separately-by-2023-and-50000-city-trees-to-be-planted-in-urban-tree-challenge-fund/
https://www.letsrecycle.com/news/latest-news/abda-calls-for-urgent-funding-of-food-waste-collections/

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Carl Gurney
As an executive advisory board member for ABDA, Carl is engrained in the renewable energy sector. He also heads up our affinity relationships with the REA and ABDA. He has over 20 years’ experience, which means he has the knowledge and understanding to offer industry insights and find solutions to support your business on its growth journey.

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