Scotland gets serious on food waste

From the begging of this year any business producing more than a carrier bag’s worth of waste a week has to make sure it’s collected separately.

Foodservice Footprint P20-GPJyeF3Kvtrij4a7kziw0jH5z88R0xdcn_mJyUtnUxA-300x225 Scotland gets serious on food waste Waste  Ricardo Energy & Environment Jamie Pitcairn

New regulations coming into force on January 1st will change the way the food industry is required to manage its food waste in Scotland. From next year, food businesses (apart from those in in rural areas) that produce more than 5kg of food waste per week will be required to present it for separate collection. This new threshold replaces the 50kg baseline that has been in place since January 1st 2014.

Reducing the threshold to 5kg is significant: that amount would fit into a normal plastic carrier bag. So most, if not all, small food businesses will have to segregate their food waste.

Here’s what we know

  • A food business is defined as “an undertaking, whether for profit or not, and whether public or private, carrying out any activity related to the processing, distribution, preparation or sale of food”. This means hotels, restaurants, cafés, shopping centre food courts, canteens, pubs and shops that serve food will all have to change the way they manage their food waste.
  • The law excludes businesses that only prepare and sell drinks.Premises used to consume food brought from elsewhere (for example, an office where staff bring in food for personal consumption) are also exempt. However, a staff canteen where food is prepared, sold and consumed will have to separate its food waste.
  • Non-rural food businesses will have a duty to ensure that food waste is not deposited directly or indirectly into a public drain or sewer. Food waste disposers such as macerators cannot be used to discharge the waste to a drain or sewer in a non-rural area where a separate food waste collection service is available.

SMEs listen up

Given the large number of businesses that will be affected, the majority in town and city centres, co-ordinating the collection of these relatively small amounts of food waste is a potential logistical problem for waste management companies.

What’s more, food businesses will not want the waste being stored on site for any length of time in order to negate any hygiene risks. I have spoken to a number of waste management companies recently and they tell me awareness is still low among smaller food businesses such as cafés and bistros, so it’s important that those businesses take action soon.

If you’re unsure about what to do get in touch with a waste management company as soon as possible to agree a collection solution that works for both parties.

Ambitious plans

The environmental benefits of recycling this waste is that it avoids the creation of the harmful greenhouse gas methane, which is released when food is disposed of in landfill. Renewable energy can also be generated if the waste is processed in an anaerobic digester.

Businesses in Scotland currently throw away more than 800,000 tonnes of food waste costing tens of millions of pounds in disposal and material costs. And that’s the additional benefit of the ambitious Waste (Scotland) Regulations: they force businesses to separate waste and, from experience, once a business owner or manager physically sees the amount of food waste being produced it is a real driver for change in their business practices.

When waste is separated, prevention becomes a business priority. And when food waste is reduced, margins go up.

A good example is the Timberyard restaurant in Edinburgh, where kitchen management means that very little food is wasted and all vegetable waste is composted, providing the nutrients needed to grow salad leaves and herbs in the grounds of the restaurant.

These regulations should be embraced rather than feared. Larger businesses, producing 50kg of food waste a week, have been separating their waste for two years now and the most important lesson we’ve learned is the importance of staff engagement. Providing clearly labelled bins and giving appropriate training to staff to capture as much food waste as possible and minimise contamination is really important.

If you’re based south of the border, you may not be required to separate food waste by law, but that shouldn’t stop you.

Jamie Pitcairn is director (Scotland) for Ricardo Energy & Environment