Organics recyclers have backed a major newspaper campaign aimed at increasing the redistribution of edible food waste to charities in London.
But, a leading figure in the anaerobic digestion (AD) industry – Agrivert’s Harry Waters – has warned against a ‘harmful perception’ of material going to AD as ‘wasted food’, instead pointing out that much of the food treated via AD would not be suitable for human consumption.
The comments come following the launch last week of the Evening Standard’s ‘Food for London’ campaign, which backs The Felix Project, a charity set up to redistribute surplus food in the capital. Support for the initiative has also come from banking firm Citi, which has pledged £200,000 to the campaign.
Food for London’s aim is to redistribute surplus edible food from retailers and suppliers to tackle food poverty.
As part of the campaign, the Standard also published what it claims to be the “the first-ever league table ranking the top 10 supermarkets according to the proportion of surplus food they donate to charity.”
The report classifies food going to anaerobic digestion as ‘wasted food’, highlighting the continuing challenge to the AD industry over the perception of the sector as a ‘competitor’ to food redistribution charities.
In the past, some supporters of food waste distribution schemes have been critical of AD as a treatment option for food waste. And, with finding available feedstock an increasing challenge for some AD plant operators in England, redistribution has been viewed as a possible threat to the sector.
However, industry leaders have commended the Food for London campaign for redirecting avoidable food waste, but have called for mandatory food waste collection in England to further support the industry in dealing with ‘unavoidable’ food waste.
Commenting on the campaign, Jeremy Jacobs, technical director at the Organics Recycling Group, told letsrecycle.com: “Our position is quite clear. Food waste needs to be minimised initially. Whist food is still fit for human consumption then this should be the preferable route.
“At the point it is no longer edible as poses a risk to human health then AD and composting are the best route in preference to landfill and incineration. In summary we are keen to follow the waste hierarchy.
“Although there is pressure on feedstocks for AD and composting, when food is edible then it is important that feeding the less fortunate in society should come first.”
Mr Jacobs added: “We need to focus on ‘unavoidable’ food waste of which there is still plenty which is going to landfill and incineration, this needs to be captured as a matter of some urgency.
“We continue to support a mandatory food waste collection as we believe that it requires government intervention to make the step change to increasing the capture rates as has been carried out in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.”
The Organics Recycling Group has an ongoing campaign calling for mandatory food waste collections in England (see letsrecycle.com story).
However, Harry Waters, commercial director at Agrivert, warned that ideas of AD feedstock as ‘wasted food’ could be harmful: “Commentators have to be careful what they report is accurate. A perception that large amounts of edible food is being disposed of in AD plants is not correct.
“If the public believed this to be true it could damage the reputation and hinder investment in a sector that is making an important contribution to the recycling renewable objectives of the UK.”
But, Mr Waters added this doesn’t mean the campaign can’t work alongside the AD sector: “Nobody, likes to see food wasted and I am delighted to see so many people engage in this campaign. The supermarkets and large retailers have already made huge strides in this area.
“Seven years ago when Agrivert opened its first AD plant, pristine food was regularly arriving at the door. Now, thankfully, there is almost nothing arriving at our plants that anybody would ever want to eat.
“What looks like good food normally has manufacturing errors such as glass inclusion which cannot responsibly be redistributed.”
On the potential for ‘competition’ between redistribution projects and AD, Mr Waters added: “It is doubtful this campaign will have much impact on the AD sector because this type of food currently provides a tiny fraction of AD feedstocks.”
Source: letsrecycle.com General