Talking Point: Shop around for food waste solutions and get greener

Could your food waste make you greener?

Could your food waste make you greener?

Food preparation and service will always result in an element of food waste, but this blog by Amur energy shows us the hotel industry has an opportunity to benefit the environment - and reduce costs - by driving change.

Nobody likes waste, but no matter how frugal restaurants try to be with ordering, there will always be an element of food left over. This may be fruit or vegetable peelings generated in the kitchen, or uneaten food returned on diners' plates. Whatever the source, hotels need to dispose of their food waste and, to date, the process has not been entirely successful. Estimated figures show that of the 79,000 tonnes of food waste produced in the UK, only 43 per cent is recycled; this could easily be improved. 

For hotels and restaurants, the key to successful food waste disposal is twofold; first, to find the most cost effective route and second, to ensure that leftovers are exploited to produce the greatest environmental benefit.

Landfilling of food waste, along with other mixed waste items, is still not against the law, but sending food waste to landfill results in dangerous greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere and this is bad news for climate change. In the past, protecting the environment might have seemed like the only incentive for finding another way but, today, food waste literally has the opportunity to power the country.

Food waste unfit for human consumption can be treated in a number of ways. Some can be included in animal feed; it can be used to generate renewable energy through anaerobic digestion (AD), or composted and spread on land. Anaerobic digestion uses a finely tuned biocommunity that 'eats' waste to produce valuable biomethane. The gas can then be converted to electricity, injected into the gas grid, or used to fuel vehicles. AD is a serious contender in the push for renewable energy - there are now enough plants across the UK to power over one million homes.

Amur's parent company, AB Agri, has been generating profitable disposal routes for co-products for over 30 years. We take by-products from food manufacturing and blend them to make animal feed to a fixed specification. Last year, we launched our own 3MW gas to grid AD plant in Yorkshire; thanks to our extensive biological experience, we believe it will be one of the most productive in the UK. Our plant is fed 100 per cent on our own blended, food waste 'soup', which is sold under the Ch4rger brand. Ch4rger is an industry first, designed to give a guaranteed production of biomethane.

Although hoteliers often prefer the AD route for residual food waste, it is not a given that your tonne of food waste will produce X amount of gas. Productivity varies hugely between plants, with many plants in the UK operating below capacity- much of which is driven by feedstocks varying in quality and type. Just as the human stomach might be upset with a constantly changing diet, the bacteria that produce biomethane find it hard when the feedstock changes. Feeding a plant consistently with a product like Ch4rger really helps to support the health of the bacterial population which, in turn, helps to optimise the volumes and consistency of the gas produced.

Our advice to hoteliers seeking to make the most of their food waste would be to:

  • Re-examine waste contracts. One contractor for all waste streams may seem like the most straight-forward option, but in reality, this can result in greater costs and less recycling. Waste management firms often act as brokers between customers and food waste processors, so removing the middle-man may prove more lucrative.
  • Specify food waste recycling, and ask about the availability of different 'recycling' routes.
  • If you opt for anaerobic digestion, find out where your waste is going, and how productive the plant is. AD should be much more than a waste management solution and your waste can make an important contribution to the renewable energy landscape.
  • Think more positively about your 'waste'. For the AD industry, it's a valuable product and, working with the right partner, you can make a real impact

Finally, it's worth remembering that hotels produce almost 10 per cent of the food waste across the whole UK hospitality and food service sector, so each business can make a difference, no matter how small.

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