Sustainable food

Written evidence submitted by Great Green Systems Ltd

Executive Summary

1. Introduction

a. Approximately 50% of household food waste is "avoidable"; to reduce this figure will require behavioural change in the population. In addition an alternative disposal method to the use of centralised plants, which avoids using landfill where organic waste contributes to methane production, would be beneficial.

b. A solution to the two problems above would lead to a reduction in the number of centralised waste processing plants required, change the public's overall attitude to household waste and improve the level of recycling.

c. The home treatment of food waste, using Food Waste Digesters, achieves these objectives and is the best environmental and most economic method of disposal.

2. The benefits of Food Waste Digesters

a. All food waste, including meat bones and dairy products, can be safely disposed of in householder’s gardens.

b. The patented design of the two primary units, namely the Green Cone and the Green Johanna, enable householders’ circumstances relating to the desire for compost or no residue, positioning in the garden and the type of soil present to be met.

c. The home disposal of food waste facilitates alternate weekly collection, prevents smelly wheelie bins and, since the residual waste is dry, improves the level of recycling.

d. Householders become aware of the volume of their food waste which they then seek to minimise.

e. Using Food Waste Digesters empowers residents to take responsibility for their own waste, this has been proved to change the attitudes towards waste of individual households.

3. A preferred solution

a. WRAP acknowledge that the home disposal of food waste is the Best Practical Environmental Option.

b. A number of County and Borough councils have already made the use of Food Waste Digesters an integral part of their waste strategy.

c. Trials monitored by independent consultants over the last 10 years show the use of Food Waste Digesters to be efficient and economical.

d. Over 80% of householders with Food Waste Digesters recommend them to friends.

4. Conclusion

a. To collect garden and food waste unnecessarily, particularly in rural areas, when it can be safely disposed of in householder’s gardens cannot be justified on either environmental or economic grounds.

b. The pursuit of recycling targets at the expense of the minimisation and disposal of waste at source appears an unsound environmental policy.

c. Government policy appears solely centred on the disposal of food waste using centralised plants; however, for households with gardens, there is a proven, environmentally better and more economical solution, namely the use of Food Waste Digesters. The use of Food Waste Digesters should be encouraged.

1. Introduction

The Government in recent years, through the offices of Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), has done much to reduce the amount of food waste; the campaign "Love Food Hate Waste" was successful in persuading the public to be less wasteful when purchasing food. However, a significant element of the avoidable fraction continues to be present in the waste stream together with the unavoidable element. Only when householders see for themselves the total amount of food continuing to be wasted will there be an attitudinal change that will lead to a further significant reduction in the total volume.

During the last five years increased emphasis has been placed by the Government on the disposal of household food waste by means of centralised plants, for example Anaerobic Digestion and Energy from Waste plants.

The "waste hierarchy" should be the cornerstone of any waste management policy and sets out the order in which options for waste disposal need to be considered based on environmental impact. Under the "waste hierarchy" minimisation should be the primary focus of strategy since it offers the most sustainable and least expensive approach to managing waste.

To address the two problems of how to change the public attitude to food waste and to implement sustainable and economic measures for its disposal is a priority. It is therefore a concern that the home disposal of household food waste is not being promoted by the Government, despite the fact that WRAP considers home treatment to be the Best Practical Environmental Option and a number of County Councils promote this practice.

The disposal of food waste in the curtilage of the home can best be achieved by the use of Food Waste Digesters (FWDs) and this paper will show that these units offer the best environmental solution at the lowest cost and that their use causes a change in attitude of the public to both organic and inorganic waste which can only be beneficial. Thus it is suggested that the role of Food Waste Digesters in any integrated waste policy is being overlooked and needs to be addressed.

2. Food Waste Digesters

a. Introduction
There are two types of household Food Waste Digester that have been marketed in the UK for more than 10 years. These units enable all food waste, including meat bones and dairy products, to be safely disposed of in householder’s gardens. The patented design of the units, which are similar in appearance to traditional garden composters, ensures that the flow of oxygen over the waste is maximised and heat retained; thus the best possible environment is established for microbial degradation. The construction of the units together with their design features ensures that vermin are not attracted to the food waste and that their use is made simple for the householder.

b. The Green Cone

The Green Cone, which requires to be dug into the householders gardens, converts all food waste into its primary components of water and carbon dioxide; the unit produces very little residue and needs to be situated in a sunny position with good drainage.

c. The Green Johanna

The Green Johanna, unlike the Green Cone, is designed to accept green garden waste as well as all food waste and produces a rich compost; this unit is installed on the surface of the ground, preferably in a shaded location.

d. General

The Green Cone and the Green Johanna complement each other in regard to a householder’s requirement for compost or no residue, the availability of a sunny or shady position in their garden and the type of soil present.

Food Waste Digesters are the most natural way to dispose of food waste for those householders with gardens, together with being the most sustainable and economical solution to the disposal of this waste stream.

3. Benefits of using Food Waste Digesters

a. Environmental

i. Disposal of any waste stream at source in a safe, economic and effective way must be the common sense solution.

ii. To reduce the amount of waste requiring to be collected, thereby minimising transport pollution, can only be beneficial. (It is accepted that reducing the amount of waste being collected and effectively re-cycled in centralised plants will result in the achievement of recycling targets being more difficult, however this is an argument which cannot be sustained on environmental or economical grounds)

iii. If waste is simply collected from households the residents have no incentive to reduce it. Since ‘pay as you throw’ appears to be unlikely to be introduced in the short term then residents need other forms of encouragement to minimise their waste. FWDs result in individual householders taking responsibility for their own waste.

iv. The reduction in the volume of waste requiring to be treated in centralised plants could lead to a reduction in the number of such units required.

v. FWDs facilitate the less frequent collection of other waste and help to improve the cycling rates since the residual waste is dry and not contaminated with food waste.

vi. FWDs are a totally natural and benign process.

4. Financial

a. The cost of treating and disposing of food waste in landfill or centralised plants will rise. Oil and other transport costs are unlikely to fall and future increases in landfill tax have been announced. The cost of using FWDs is a fraction of alternative methods of disposal and this is particularly true in rural areas. If using FWDs enables alternative weekly collection of the residual waste to be implemented or retained the cost savings are even greater.

b. The merit of having a single fixed cost, namely the purchase of a Food Waste Digester, is considerable in times of in inflation and uncertainty.

c. Various cost analysis studies, effected by independent consultants, have been prepared that show the return of investment on Food Waste Digesters is usually between three and four years. The calculations take into consideration the capital cost of the units, the falloff rate as residents cease to use the units, the costs of transporting and disposing of the waste in centralised units.

5. Lead to a change in public attitude

a. It has been repeatedly proved that with the segregation of food waste from other residual waste the public not only reduces the actual amount of their organic waste but recycles more of their residual waste. The use of separate food waste bins, designed to facilitate collection and treatment in centralised plants, has the same effect as Food Waste Digesters; however, even when strongly encouraged, less than 60% of residents participate in food collection schemes and participants are not consistent with always segregating their food waste, thus there will be food in the residual waste bins. Those residents who use Food Waste Digesters place all their food waste in the units.

b. Food waste has been the one remaining element of the waste stream that has been outside the control of many householders. The single greatest advantage in the use of Food Waste Digesters is that they empower residents to take their own action with regard to the amount of food waste they produce and its disposal.

6. The preferred solution for many residents

a. Removing all organic matter from the waste waiting to be collected facilitates alternate weekly collections of the residual waste since this is dry and not a health hazard.

b. Collection bins, which contain no food waste, are far less smelly with one less unit being required.

c. Vermin are not attracted to the organic waste left out overnight.

7. A proven solution

a. In England many councils have been promoting the use of FWDs for a number of years. In each case, before commencing to use FWDs on a large scale, the councils effected comprehensive trials which were monitored by independent consultants. County Councils such as East and West Sussex, Cornwall, and Wiltshire, to together with a number of district and borough councils, regard the Green Cone and the Green Johanna as an integral part of their waste strategy. Other councils are reviewing their policies with a view to promoting the units.

b. The trials, referred to above, also proved the units to be very popular with residents with over 80% of users recommending them to a friend after one year.

c. Green Cones are beginning to be sold overseas with demand growing in Canada and the United States and early trials in Australia. In Northern Europe, primarily in Sweden, the Green Johanna, which carries the Nordic Ecolabel, has been the leading ‘hot composter’ for many years and approximately 600,000 units have been sold over the last 10 years.

8. Conclusion

a. To collect organic and garden waste unnecessarily when it can be readily disposed of in householder’s gardens cannot be justified on either environmental or economic grounds.

b. Ways must be found to promote the home treatment of food waste and encourage householders to reduce the amount of waste put out for collection. The introduction of waste arising targets would facilitate this and have the effect of negating recycling targets which perversely so often increase the amount of waste being collected.

c. Local authorities should be required to consider the option of introducing home treatment when determining their waste strategies.

d. The Government, through agencies such as WRAP, should offer advice and support relating to household treatment and the use of FWDs and not merely promote the collection and disposal of waste through the use of centralised plants.

23 March 2011