Shocking Food Waste Facts and Figures!

Posted by Robert McKechnie on Wed, Feb 08, 2012

Food waste recyclingAs our esteemed political leaders debate the relative merits of separate food waste collections we look at some of the eye popping facts and figures on what we waste and the business opportunity for enlightened recyclers and waste management companies.

The stats

An estimated 15 million tonnes (mt) of food waste is generated in the UK every year including 7.2 mt from households.

Wasting food costs the average family with children around £680 a year, or £50 a month.

Each year, one person gets through 90 drink cans (surely not me!), 70 food cans, 107 bottles and jars and 45kg of plastic.

The UK uses about 12 billion cans each year - enough to stretch to the moon and back.

Every day in the UK we throw away:

  • 1.6 million whole untouched bananas
  • 1.3 million unopened yoghurts
  • 600,000 whole uncooked eggs
  • 1.2 million untouched sausages
  • 20 million slices of bread

The perfectly good food we throw away each year in the UK includes:

  • Fresh vegetables and salad: £1.4 bn / 860,000 t.
  • Fresh fruit: £990 m / 500,000 t.
  • Bakery goods: £1.1 bn / 680,000 t.
  • Home-made and pre-prepared meals: £2.1 bn / 660,000 t.
  • Dairy and eggs. Includes milk thrown away from the fridge and leftovers from serving too much (e.g. breakfast cereals): £870 m / 530,000 t.
  • £280m worth of milk is thrown away and over 90% of this is in amounts of 50g or more = about quarter of a glass each time.
  • £480 m of wine.
  • £250 m of carbonated soft drinks.
  • £190 m of fruit juices and smoothies.....who’s for starting up a business called “Second chance smoothies!”?

A grand total of £7.38bn for this little lot but I’m sure it easily tops £10bn. Quite a figure when you consider that the total UK government resource budget for Transportation for 2012 is £6bn.

What’s the environmental impact? Extremely difficult to quantify the whole life cycle impact but if we were to stop wasting food that could have been eaten, the CO2 impact would be the equivalent of taking 1 in 5 cars off the road.

The Opportunity?

The main technologies for treating food waste are In-Vessel Composting (IVC) and Anaerobic Digestion (AD).

In addition to the 15 mt of food waste there is also an estimated 90 mt of animal slurry and manure that could be available for use by AD. In England alone this could generate between 3 – 5 TWh of electricity per year by 2020. This is enough to power over 0.5 million households.

There are currently 146 operational AD plants in the UK. The majority of these (~119) are small scale accepting less than 10,000 tonnes per annum.

According to AMR Research, in order to meet the 2013 and 2002 Landfill Directive (& the 2020 renewable energy) targets around 100 large commercial and 1,000 on-farm AD are likely to be needed plus an unspecified number of IVC plants.

AD plants are subject to Environmental Permitting Regulations based upon a number of factors including the input material type, storage/treatment capacity and net rated thermal input. The conditions of the permit outlines how plants must be managed including evidence of records and any requirements to monitor certain emissions. Reports must be submitted on a quarterly basis including details of waste accepted and removed from the site. Ideally, for larger installation the plant control or SCADA system would be linked to the site waste management software and electronic weighbridge if available.

So there you have it. A number of forward thinking recyclers and facilities management companies have already implemented food waste collection services. The successful ones will wield significant power as financing for AD projects will in a large part be based upon surety of supply.

As ever, I would be grateful for your comments and feedback.

For more information check out the following references:

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Tags: Food Waste Collection, Food Waste Recycling