Saturday, June 11, 2016

Report shows that food waste “collected separately” can reduce costs for businesses and local authorities

New modelling released ... by the Renewable Energy Association has concluded that in the majority of situations, food waste collected separately can save money for local authorities and businesses in the UK. 

The UK has a legally binding recycling target of 50 per cent by 2020. The UK is presently at 45 per cent and falling, and there is no clear plan from Government to improve this performance.

The report “The Real Economic Benefit of Separate Biowaste Collections,” launched ... at a Parliamentary Reception in London, outlines that although it is counterintuitive for many organisations, a number of factors can actually reduce costs compared to regular general (residual) waste collections. These include:
  • Separate food and other biowaste collections require fewer general waste collections (once the putrescible material has been removed on a weekly basis),
  • Separately collected food and other biowaste significantly reduces the weight of general waste collections, which in turn reduces the cost of disposing of general wastes in landfill (lower weight reduces gate fees charges by landfills),
  • Gate fees for the separately collected food waste are significantly lower at anaerobic digestion or composting facilities compared to landfill sites. 
Added benefits of separate food waste collections include significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions from landfill and the anticipated growth of the green gas industry. Green gas is produced through anaerobic digestion, which uses food waste as a feedstock to produce nearly carbon-neutral gas. The green gas can in turn by used to generate heat, power, and even be used as a renewable fuel in Heavy Goods Vehicles.
There appear to be around 1.85m tonnes of UK commercial and industrial (C&I) food waste from relatively large producers that are currently being disposed of through thermal treatment or landfill, or whose fate is unknown. This is approximately 4% of all UK C&I waste. While there may be a perception that food waste collections are expensive, this reflects the volume-based charging system for waste that has dominated in the past.
Examining the change in the waste management costs of four example businesses under different sets of assumptions shows that:
  • Requiring food businesses to take up separate collections will increase the efficiency of food waste collection services, bringing down the costs and improving the business case for all food waste producers to take up separate collections. 
  • Under a mandatory separate collection system, a business that produces around 500kg of food waste per week will save over £900 per year compared with the expected cost of residual waste collections, based on approaches to pricing already widely used in the market. 
  • Within a system that uses pay-by-weight pricing, even small food producers will make savings by introducing separate food waste collections. 
  • In addition to the direct savings, there is evidence that separating food waste will help to increase and improve dry recycling, leading to further waste collection savings for businesses, as well as helping producers identify and prevent food waste. 
  • Market forces alone will not be quick or effective in producing these benefits compared with
    government intervention.
Biowaste is already a significant part of the England’s municipal recycling. Of the 10,025m tonnes of household waste collected for recycling in 2014, garden waste (including mixed food and garden) accounting for 39%, while separately collected food waste comprised 3%.

However, there remains a substantial opportunity for this contribution to increase. Recent estimates indicate that food waste still comprises around 30% of household residual waste. Food waste collections are considerably less widespread than garden waste. Whilst over 90% of English local authorities offer a garden waste collection, 45% offer no facility to separate food waste from residual waste. Councils can make direct savings by separately collecting food waste. The money saved by diverting waste from more expensive disposal or treatment options can significantly offset the costs of collection, but whether it does so fully depends on the collection system already in place, the collection system which is proposed, and the differential between the treatment costs. However, separate food waste collections also offer the opportunity to make far greater indirect savings. Based on WRAP data, for authorities where weekly residual waste collections are currently in place, a move to weekly separate food waste collections and fortnightly residual waste appears to consistently lead to considerable savings – typically between £10-20 per household per year – without any other changes to the waste and recycling system. Where councils already collect residual waste fortnightly, indirect savings offer the opportunity to implement food waste collections while maintaining or reducing councils’ overall waste collection costs:

  • Giving residents the opportunity to remove food waste from the residual stream may make it possible to reduce the frequency of residual waste services to three or four weekly, cutting  collection costs and driving up recycling. 
  • Many councils that have already implemented fortnightly residual waste collections would be able to introduce separate food waste collections while saving money by changing to a recycling system that allows food waste to be collected more conveniently and economically.
The recent experience of Scotland shows that placing a clear legal requirement on businesses to separate food waste can increase the number of food waste customers and the resulting food waste captured. This in turn has a significant impact on the cost of food waste collection. Furthermore, it changes the expectations of residual waste collectors regarding the weight of the residual waste they will collect, allowing competition to drive down cost of this service. This scenario is illustrated in Figure 3.
Under this scenario, the number of businesses from which a collector picks up food waste on each given round increases significantly, from 25 to 35, although there is a fall in the average number of bins emptied at each site as smaller producers come on board. This allows collectors to develop more efficient rounds, with less distance between pick-ups; and to spread the costs of each round (e.g. the vehicle and crew) across more customers. This reduces the amount that each customer needs to be charged for food waste collections. Meanwhile, residual waste collectors begin to offer prices based on the expectation that bins will be more or less free of food waste, and much lighter than previously as a result.
Thanks to the reduced food waste collection costs, both the large and medium food waste producers now make a saving by separating their food waste. The small producer’s additional costs fall to only £97 per year out of a total annual cost of £1,108.

The pattern seen in Figure 3 develops further if the market for food waste collections is widened still further by requiring smaller producers to separate this material. The larger number of clients allows for a further increase in the number of containers emptied on each round, allowing collection costs to be spread over a still larger number of customers. A scenario in which collectors are able to reach 40 customers on each round....

The lower food waste collection costs further improve the business case for change for all business types. The savings made by the large and medium producer increase, while the additional cost for the small producer falls to only £58 per year, out of a total cost of £1,068. Even the additional costs to the non-food business would be only £61 per year, if it were willing to receive food waste collections fortnightly. A weekly collection from a smaller container would be likely to cost more.
You can find a copy of the report here.

Renewable Energy Association (UK)
Posted: 19 May, 2016.

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