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While this Government support the development of such technology, we must not forget the bigger picture. In the UK, we currently pay for, but do not eat, about
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£10 billion of food every year; that is equivalent to an astonishing average of £420 of waste per household every year. About 6.7 million tonnes of food is wasted, and that rises to 10 million tonnes if we include the retail and commercial sector. I must say that my parents and our grandparents would be banging the dinner table at us and saying, “Eat your food up!”

This food waste has large environmental and social impacts. Much of the waste currently ends up in landfill sites and degrades to produce dangerous greenhouse gases. Each tonne of food waste that is treated by plants such as the one in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency saves a tonne of CO2 compared with landfilling. I do not think we can, but if we could deal with the problem and all those hundreds of tonnes purely through anaerobic digestion, it would result in the equivalent of removing one in five cars from the road, in terms of 18 million tonnes of CO2.

Enough of the statistics—what are we doing to tackle this waste? First, the Government’s waste strategy, which was published in 2007, put a strong emphasis on waste prevention. The Waste and Resources Action Programme, to which reference has been made, and its partners are running the very good and consumer-facing Love Food Hate Waste campaign, which was launched in November 2007. It involves working closely with the UK grocery sector, the food industry and organisations such as the Food Standards Agency to make it easier for consumers to get the most from the food they buy and to waste less of it. Our target for March 2011 is to reduce the amount of waste food thrown away each year by 250,000 tonnes, and we are currently on track. We have also set ourselves an ambitious quantified target to secure commercial sector reductions at the back of store, and further up the supply chain.

Despite those initiatives, we will inevitably be left with a large amount of food waste requiring treatment, and that is where anaerobic digestion comes in. It is ideal for wet, energy-rich waste food, and it ticks all the boxes environmentally. It can produce 100 per cent. renewable electricity by combustion of the methane captured from the digestion process; heat produced by the process is recycled within the plant and the treated residue—the hon. Gentleman mentioned this—can be returned to the land as a fertiliser; and the whole process reduces greenhouse gas emissions compared with other waste processes. For those reasons, AD was identified in the Government’s waste strategy as the preferred method for treating food waste, and it is a key component of our renewable energy strategy, which is to be published in June.

Anaerobic digestion will contribute to the UK’s share of the EU’s binding target for renewable energy, which is proposed to be 15 per cent. by 2020. It will also help us to achieve the legally binding targets in the Climate Change Act 2008 to reduce UK CO2 emissions. The Government’s initial analysis suggests that the anaerobic digestion of all organic wastes to produce biogas could contribute approximately 10 to 20 TW hours of heat and power by 2020. That represents between 3.8 and 7.5 per cent. of the renewable energy that we estimate will be required by 2020. Food waste could contribute around 30 per cent. of that.

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Although we are eager to see a much greater uptake by local authorities and businesses, anaerobic digestion can also provide our farmers with opportunities. It will help them to reduce the methane emissions produced by agriculture—those are running at 37 per cent. of the UK total—and allow them to diversify into the renewable energy field. We should not miss these opportunities. But for the treatment of food waste to develop, waste collections need to change. That is because AD ideally requires a clean stream of organic material and, as the hon. Gentleman said, that is best achieved with separate collection of household food waste. Progress on this is good, but we know that there is more to do. Latest figures show that weekly separate collections of food cover well over 1 million households, in 37 local authority areas. Trials in 2007-08 supported by WRAP showed some encouraging participation rates, with an estimated capture of 62 per cent. of all food waste on average.

Of course, for AD to develop it also needs a market and investors. They need certainty that the demand will be there for AD and its products before investing, so confidence needs to be built in the quality and use of the materials involved in the process. The Government are working hard to drive the increased use of AD forward in several ways. The hon. Gentleman will know of the changes that we have made to the Renewables Obligation Order. The revision of that shows the Government’s long-term commitment to renewable electricity and will allow the sector to mature with certainty. Anaerobic digestion is among the technologies that will receive additional support in the form of two renewables obligation certificates per megawatt-hour from 1 April, as a result of changes introduced by the Energy Act 2008.

We know that the residues, or digestates, from AD plants can be used as fertiliser. In order to facilitate market development in that area, the Environment Agency and WRAP have developed a standard and quality protocol. That sets out conditions for digestate production and use. A draft has already been published, and has been notified before the European Commission’s technical standards committee. So we are making progress and we recognise the potential of the technology.

The DEFRA-sponsored AD demonstration programme will support exciting projects in different sectors. A total of £10 million will be available from the environmental transformation fund until 31 March 2011. It will seek to fund between three and six projects that demonstrate different benefits of AD, and the Biocycle plant was an earlier example of a similar scheme.

DEFRA also recently published “Anaerobic Digestion—Shared Goals”, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. This outlines a programme of work with a broad range of stakeholders, including agriculture, energy and water utilities, the waste management sector, regulators, and local and regional government. To develop practical ways to increase the use of anaerobic digestion, we are setting up a new anaerobic digestion task group. Its implementation plan, which we hope to have in place later this year, will set out the practical measures that the Government and stakeholders can take to achieve the shared goals.

I am also pleased to say that AD is one of the measures eligible for support under the rural development programme for England 2007-13. It also qualifies for the bioenergy capital grants scheme, which supports the installation of biomass-fuelled heating and combined heat and power projects, including anaerobic digesters.

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So progress is undoubtedly being made, but we need to do more. If the Government and all the stakeholders work together, we can succeed with this technology and create a prosperous AD market that benefits society, the environment and businesses.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important topic and I commend the work that is being done by Biocycle. We want to see more such work, with businesses
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and farmers taking advantage of this technology. It is a challenge, but it is also an opportunity. I thank the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members for contributing to what has been a lively and informative debate.

Question put and agreed to.

7.47 pm

House adjourned.

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