Could business food waste in North Lancashire district be collected and composted in a closed loop system?

The report summarises research undertaken July 2023-February 2024 into the feasibility of a food waste collection service for food SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) in North Lancashire to produce compost at the local scale and support a circular food system.

The UK produces the largest amount of food waste in Europe. In 2021, an estimated 10.7 million tonnes of food was wasted in the UK.(1) The value of wasted food is estimated to be £14 billion. The hospitality industry alone wastes 1.7 million tonnes of food. Not only does this cost money, it costs the environment too – UK food waste is associated with greenhouse gas emissions of over 25 million tonnes.(2) If global food waste was counted as a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions after China and the USA, contributing 8-10% of the total human-made greenhouse emissions.(1)

This wasted food can loosely be classified into food that could have been eaten and inedible waste. The 6.4 million tonnes of wasted food that could have been eaten in the UK each year would make the equivalent of over 15 billion meals, which is enough to feed the entire UK population 3 meals a day for 11 weeks.(1) 

The UK government recommends that, as a first step, members of the public and businesses try to reduce the amount of food being wasted by running waste audits and purchasing differently; that surplus food is redistributed or donated and, following that, recycled; with the final option being to send it to landfill.

Half of local authorities across England provide household food waste collections, the majority send the food collected to create energy via an anaerobic digester and some produce compost on a mass scale.(3) Some non-local authority organisations and projects in the UK are collecting food waste from businesses and households to create compost to return or sell back to the community to use on the land, in a circular economy system. 

In North Lancashire, the council currently does not collect food waste from households or businesses. They will be expected to collect household waste as of 2026 in accordance with new government guidance as part of the Environment Act 2021. New government legislation will also enforce that businesses in the UK separate their food waste to be recycled by 2025 or 2027 depending on the size of the business.

Businesses that took part in this research (survey, interview, focus groups) were very interested in the idea of a local scheme collecting their food waste and turning it back into compost. Most businesses said that reducing their environmental impact was the biggest driver for them to join this sort of scheme, and the majority were particularly interested in a local food waste collection scheme as opposed to a private food waste collector, especially if the price of collection was competitive. 

This report summarises government legislation around food waste collection and North Lancashire local and county councils’ plans. It summarises existing food waste collection and compost-creation models across the UK. It shares the view of a range of North Lancashire businesses’ opinions on food waste and compost collection. Finally it presents business models to run a food waste collection scheme in North Lancashire including different composting set-ups, costs and finances. and possible funding available.

This research highlights four different business models for the district for collecting businesses’ food waste and turning it into compost. One supported by the local council to collect business food waste on a larger scale across the district. The second, a large district-wide collection scheme creating compost on different sites around the district. The final two models are the most feasible: localised projects collecting business food waste and creating compost as part of a membership scheme in different parts of the district, and a model of small groups of businesses forming collectives to purchase food waste compost tumblers to process their own waste.

(1) https://wrap.org.uk/taking-action/food-drink/actions/action-on-food-waste
(2) https://www.wastemanaged.co.uk/food-waste-facts-statistics/
(3) https://www.localgov.co.uk/The-case-for-keeping-co-mingled-collections-while-boosting-food-waste-recycling-rates/53830

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