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Powerful Waste Food

24 June 2008

The volume of food waste generated in the UK is becoming a high profile waste problem. However, an
innovative scheme from Cawleys that takes commercial food waste to be disposed of in a anaerobic digester to make electricity and fertiliser by-products, ticks all of the ‘green’ buttons in one go.

EACH YEAR THE UK GENERATES MILLIONS of tonnes of food waste from all parts of the food supply chain – food processing, retailing, catering and from household waste. Whilst businesses may previously have concentrated on recycling cardboard, plastics and glass, it is becoming clear that they also need to turn attention to ‘greener’ methods of disposing of the food waste that is generated on site, from staff canteens and restaurants.

Recycling our food waste, rather than disposing of it to landfill, could make carbon savings equivalent to taking 1 in 5 cars off the road. Cawleys, a waste management and recycling company based in Luton, has recently launched a service for commercial customers that will allow environmentally-conscious companies to dispose of food waste using a totally ‘green’ solution. Cawleys’ Food Recycling Round enables food waste producers to dispose of waste in an environmentally sustainable way through a Anaerobic Digestion (AD) system. This enables food waste to be turned into renewable energy in a carbon-neutral process.

Cawleys’ Food Recycling Round collects the food waste from the customer using a lorry that runs on biofuel and delivers it to the BIOGEN plant (part of the Bedfordia Group), with whom it has sole tipping rights. At the plant depackaging equipment separates any plastic, tin, card and paper from the food waste before it is processed. The food waste is then mixed with pig manure to form a substrate which is pasteurized and passed into a fermenter for Anaerobic Digestion. Bacteria break the food waste down and the methane gas produced is converted into electricity for the National Grid. The remaining by-product - a liquid digestate - is an excellent organic fertilizer which is used on the land, completing the natural life cycle.

An additional advantage of AD is that it enables disposal of products that cannot be sent to landfill such as uncooked meat and raw fish because of possible environmental and health risks. Using AD, this kind of waste can be dealt with alongside all other food waste. The process can also deal with cooking oil, beverages and liquid food wastes and napkins that may become mixed in with canteen food waste. The service guarantees that all food waste is disposed of in a safe manner and destruction certificates are issued to each customer to give peace of mind that their products have been destroyed through treatment or recycling.

The scheme has been adopted by one of London’s leading international law firms, Slaughter and May. The legal firm employs over 1,100 staff at its City office. The Cawleys’ food disposal contract covers all food waste generated on site, including the large staff restaurant, a number of dining rooms and staff pantries on each floor. Alan Shepherd, Slaughter and May’s Services Manager, has been impressed by Cawleys’ effective delivery of a green solution:

“In all areas of our work quality and best practice are important. We have an Environment Committee which drives change, and where we can make improvements which benefit the environment we will follow them through. The switch to food waste recycling is a straight forward and sensible step to take.”

Cawleys also works with other large commercial premises such as the Riverside Shopping Centre in Hemel Hempstead. Joanna Hall. Riverside Centre Manager comments:

“The Cawleys service was far more comprehensive than other recycling schemes because it took food into consideration and, with a number of restaurants and cafes as tenants, food recycling was very important to us. Cawleys has shown us that it is fairly easy to implement a green way of working without having to radically alter the way that you run your business.”

With innovative services such as Cawleys’ available, it is becoming clear that it is no longer acceptable for companies to ignore the impact they have on the environment. In addition to considering environmental issues, companies must also consider the costs involved from the rising landfill tax if they are not recycling waste. Whilst Anaerobic Digestion might work out to be slightly more expensive at this stage, with landfill tax now topping by £8 per tonne per year from April 2008, it could well be an investment in the future in both financial and environmental terms.

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