Waste collections – Are you losing out?

THE GENERAL waste collection model used by contractors to foodservice businesses needs to go, says Dean Pearce, regional commercial manager at ReFood.


The Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimates that within the profit sector of the hospitality industry 600,000 tonnes of food waste is produced each year. Even more significant, it’s estimated that the cost sector produces 3.4 million tonnes of food waste, two million tonnes of which could be avoided. With so much waste being produced it is paramount that it is disposed of in a sustainable way.


The general waste model typically operates a “one-price-fits-all” policy. This means that companies throughout the food supply chain that are part of a general waste round pay for waste disposal per bin rather than by weight.


Companies that have heavier bins are subsidised by ones that have lighter bins. Waste collectors are then able to make a profit by having a mix of light and heavy bins.


This approach to waste collection presents a number of fundamental flaws. Not least the fact that the landfill tax was originally introduced as a way to encourage recycling by making disposal to landfill more expensive than recycling. If bins that are particularly heavy can be collected for less than the cost of landfill tax the economic benefit of recycling is lost.


As we detail in the “Vision 2020: UK Roadmap to Zero Food Waste to Landfill” report we have just published with entrepreneurial charity BioRegional, the subsidised cost of mixed waste within a general waste collection, together with the comparable weight of food waste, leaves little incentive to separate and recycle the waste once it has been mixed. It is then harder to determine how much food waste is being produced and therefore it becomes difficult to reduce it.


Generating food waste means that the producer has paid for the raw ingredients, paid to cook it and paid to throw it away. Reducing food waste saves all of those costs and a key step in this change is physically seeing and measuring food wastage.


Unfortunately, as a result of the current waste model, the producer inadvertently becomes a part of a waste service that has the least desirable environmental and economic outcomes.


However, there is a very clear and easy solution. By using separate waste collection bins and paying by weight rather than per bin, waste that would otherwise go to landfill can be used to deliver both economic and environmental benefits. Food that would otherwise go to landfill can be used to feed people in need, or feed livestock, or be turned into energy through anaerobic digestion (AD) or composted. By removing food – the biggest contaminant from the waste stream – it allows the significant value of other recyclable materials to be maximised. Not only can separation encourage waste reduction, if supported by the right messages it can help to identify where cost savings can be made and thereby reduce costs and improve the bottom line.


The message is clear: as long as the general waste model prevails, landfill tax will fail to divert food waste from landfill. The catering and hospitality sector needs to work with waste companies and local authorities to find ways to universally adopt separate food waste collections and stop the rot.