CHAPTER 5: Respecting the 'Waste Hierarchy'|
142. The EU's Waste Framework Directive sets
out a 'waste hierarchy' (see Figure 4), from prevention through
to disposal via minimisation, reuse, recycling and recovery.
In this chapter, we consider how practical application of the
waste hierarchy to the food supply chain may have implications
for food waste prevention throughout the chain.
The 'waste hierarchy'
Source: Directive 2008/98
143. As applied to food, it has been argued that
the waste hierarchy translates into a 'food use hierarchy' (see
Figure 5) from prevention to landfill via redistribution to humans,
feeding to animals and energy or nutrient recovery by methods
such as AD and in-vessel composting (IVC) (see Box 8).
In the Netherlands the food utilisation hierarchy is referred
to as the 'Ladder van Moerman', where each successive step down
the hierarchy from waste prevention down towards treatment and
disposal represents a loss in food value and a less desirable
The 'food use hierarchy'
Source: WRAP supplementary
Anaerobic digestion and in-vessel composting
AD is a natural process whereby plant and animal
materials (biomass) are broken down by micro-organisms in the
absence of air. Many forms of biomass are suitable for AD, including
food waste, slurry and manure, as well as crops and crop residues.
The process is carried out in three steps. First,
biomass is put inside a sealed tank or digester. Second, naturally
occurring micro-organisms then digest the biomass, releasing a
methane-rich gas (biogas). This gas can be used to generate renewable
heat and power. Finally, the remaining material (digestate) is
rich in nutrients and can be used as a fertiliser.
IVCs can be used to treat food and garden waste mixtures.
These systems ensure that composting takes place in an enclosed
environment, with accurate temperature control and monitoring.
The feedstock is shredded to a uniform size and loaded
in the first 'barrier'. Naturally occurring micro-organisms break
down the material, releasing nutrients and increasing the temperature
to the 60-70°C necessary to kill pathogens. After the first
stage (which can take between seven days and three weeks), the
material transfers to the second 'barrier' and continues to compost,
usually for a similar duration.
During both stages the oxygen level, moisture and
temperature are carefully monitored and controlled to ensure full
sanitisation of the material. After being sanitised, the compost
is left to mature in an open windrow
or enclosed area for approximately 10-14 weeks to ensure stabilisation.
144. The inquiry detected no disagreement with
the principle of such a food use hierarchy. Defra emphasised the
economic benefits of waste prevention rather than allowing waste
to occur and to pass down the hierarchy.
Other witnesses, including the waste management industry, were
clear that they saw prevention, followed by redistribution, as
waste prevention can be a requirement of waste management contracts
according to SITA UK and Veolia.
The Environmental Services Association (ESA), representing the
waste management industry, has agreed a Responsibility Deal with
the UK Government, which includes a commitment to promote the
145. We share the view of our witnesses that
the waste hierarchy as applied to food is most effectively represented
as a food use hierarchy, focused on prevention and redistribution
to humans and animals, wherever possible. As this interpretation
has not been formally recognised, we recommend that the European
Commission publishes guidance on the application of the waste
hierarchy to food.
146. We heard concerns, however, that economic
drivers tend to distort the hierarchy, with a result that there
are incentives directed towards lower stages of the hierarchy,
including both AD and IVC, rather than redistribution.
According to FareShare: "at the moment, we have a waste hierarchy
that is completely out of kilter with the economic hierarchy that
sits alongside it".
Waitrose acknowledged that there is a clear temptation, on economic
grounds, to prioritise energy recovery over redistribution, although
Waitrose itself is supportive of redistribution, as it prefers
to have "food used as food".
147. Turning first to the economics of food redistribution
for charitable purposes, we heard that fiscal tools are available
to promote such redistribution, which could help to align economic
incentives more effectively with the food use hierarchy. One financial
tool available to Member States is the possibility to exempt food
donated for charitable purposes from value added tax (VAT) under
Articles 16 and 74 of the VAT Directive.
The European Commission has adopted guidance which clearly supports
According to the FDF, 13 Member States currently take advantage
of this derogation, including the UK.
We detected frustration that the measure has not, though, been
adopted more widely. Tesco expressed relief that Poland had recently
introduced the option, which would assist Tesco's redistribution
The FDF, representing food manufacturers (which is a sector with
a high level of surplus food),
wanted to see this approach "extended across all Member States"
so as to achieve a harmonised approach across the EU to interpretation
of the VAT Directive.
148. Another fiscal option already operated in
some countries is to offer tax deductions for redistribution schemes.
In the US, which has extensive networks for food redistribution
on a far larger scale than European operations,
Section 170(e)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code allows certain
businesses to earn a tax deduction for donating food and can claim
tax breaks on shipments of food if donated food is transported
using spare capacity in delivery vehicles.
Feeding the 5,000 noted that government incentives for diverting
surplus food for human consumption are rare in EU countries, although
France is reportedly moving towards tax breaks for businesses
that donate their food for charitable redistribution.
The idea of exercising such fiscal options was described by FareShare
as potentially "transformational" if it succeeded in
creating an economic incentive for private operators to redistribute
food, beyond the current moral incentive.
149. Partnerships through the supply chain may
also be able to ensure that food is redistributed efficiently.
One possible model has been developed by the Spanish agri-food
cooperatives and Spanish Federation of Food Banks to distribute
fruit and vegetables among the neediest people.
Such cooperation has the added value of reducing the reliance
of food aid organisations on packaged and tinned products, rather
than fresh products.
150. We conclude that there are fiscal tools
available to support the redistribution of surplus edible food,
ranging from value added tax (VAT) exemptions to tax deductions
and tax breaks. We recommend that the European Commission communicates
its agreed guidance on application of the VAT Directive, ensuring
that it is publicised and is easily accessible on its website.
151. Furthermore, we recommend that the European
Commission undertakes an assessment of fiscal measures that might
be adopted to encourage food redistribution, with a view to possible
adoption by Member States. In the meantime, we recommend that
the UK Government undertake their own assessment of how they might
further promote the redistribution of food to humans by way of
fiscal measures. Particular attention should be given to encouraging
the redistribution of fresh, nutritious food.
152. Moving down the hierarchy, the next stage
is the use of food not fit for human consumption for livestock
feed. As highlighted in the previous chapter, this is only permitted
where food has not been in contact with animal by-products (see
Chapter 4, paragraph 122). It would therefore include food
such as fruit, vegetables, biscuits, bread and pasta, provided
that these have been fully segregated and have not come into contact
with animal by-products. One impact of the constraints around
feeding surplus food to animals is that substitute feed must be
provided for livestock from primary sources. In large part, this
has been in the form of soymeal, which has been met partly by
the deforestation of South American rainforest in order to provide
sufficient land to grow the soy to meet demand. WWF UK told us
that the EU is now the largest importer of soy for animal feed
from South America, amounting to around 40 million tonnes.
153. Feeding the 5,000 was clear that feeding
food that cannot be redistributed back to animals is also more
energy efficient than transforming it into energy.
WWF UK agreed, noting that food is very resource-intensive and
requires energy as an input at the beginning of the process: "if
we are going to make this food, we ought to eat it as people,
and then it should go to the livestock", rather than being
transformed back into energy.
154. The UK Government stated: "Defra and
the Animal Health and Veterinary Services Agency encourage the
use of biscuits, bread, etc. in animal feed, provided it is safely
sourced and adequately separated, and have worked with industry
on schemes to improve the volume of retail waste able to be used
They reported that, within the context of the Hospitality and
Food Service Agreement, a working group is considering the production
of guidance on the feeding of catering waste to animals so that
it is very clear what is allowed and what is not allowed.
155. We welcome work underway in the UK to
clarify what food waste from the retail and catering sectors is
permitted to be fed to animals. We emphasise the urgency of the
work and consider that publication of such work would also be
helpful at the European level.
156. We examined recovery as the next stage of
the hierarchy. The AD sector has been widely supported by subsidy.
In the UK, this has taken the form of Renewable Obligation Certificates
and feed-in tariffs.
While the UK has only the sixth largest number of AD plants among
the UK is unusual in treating a lot of food waste through AD.
Efforts to boost AD in the UK are underpinned by the Government's
AD strategy. It
was generally agreed that energy and nutrient recovery from unavoidable
food waste will remain essential as options for unavoidable food
waste. ADBA suggested
that more action could be undertaken across the EU to promote
the use of AD.
Ultimately, though, as Sustain commented: "The most desirable
things need to have the right economic penalties and incentives
so that they are more attractive than the ones at the bottom [of
157. We recommend that the European Commission
assess policy and financial intervention throughout the food use
hierarchy, publishing guidance for Member States on how such intervention
can most effectively align with the hierarchy. Such guidance would
helpfully include best practice at each stage of the hierarchy.
158. The final element of the waste hierarchy
is disposal. As indicated above, the availability of the separate
collection of food waste from mixed waste is an important part
of diverting food waste from disposal. There was general agreement
that sufficient incentives are in place to discourage the disposal
of waste through landfill, at least in principle. In the UK the
Landfill Tax has been put in place to reduce landfill disposal
and was increased to £80 per tonne on 1 April 2014, remaining
at least at this level until 2020.
Until its end in 2013, the Landfill Allowance and Trading Scheme
set a limit on the amount of biodegradable waste that local authorities
could place in landfill. Witnesses were agreed that the measures
were responsible for a reduction in the amount of waste sent to
solutions included a ban on landfill, which has been used in other
EU countries and will be introduced in Scotland from 2015.
159. WRAP emphasised that "there is still
far too much stuff going to landfill so the evidence is that [the
drivers are] not entirely right".
A waste analysis in Shropshire in 2013 showed that food waste
was the major component of waste sent for disposal, forming 34.3%
of the total and in one area was as high as 48%.
To ensure that food waste is available for recovery, rather than
being sent for disposal in landfill, an increase in the separate
collection of waste food was considered necessary.
In March 2013, 26% of Councils in England collected food waste
separately, compared to 95% in Wales, 34% in Scotland and 4% in
On 1 January 2014, the separate collection of commercial food
waste became obligatory in Scotland for large urban businesses,
to be extended to smaller urban businesses in 2016.
To overcome some of the observed variation among Councils and
Devolved Administrations, the House of Lords Science and Technology
Committee recommended that local authorities be offered further
guidance to enable them to put in place waste collection facilities
which maximise the value that can be extracted from waste.
160. The Catering Equipment Suppliers' Association
(CESA) expressed concern about the focus in Scotland on the separate
collection of waste to be sent to AD, accompanied by offers of
public subsidy. It argued that alternative technologies exist
within kitchens for the treatment of waste.
Such available technologies include food waste disposers and digesters,
which use sewers to transport waste for processing as sewage sludge
through AD at waste water treatment works. This type of disposal,
known as 'sink to sewer', has been banned in Scotland and the
Republic of Ireland. It has also been identified by WRAP as a
factor that may hinder the monitoring of food waste, particularly
within service sector catering
and Water UK has also raised environmental concerns over their
potential impact on waste water systems.
161. Even if economic incentives are aligned
with the food use hierarchy, energy and nutrient recovery will
remain essential components of food waste management, as preferred
options to disposal. Economic incentives to discourage landfill
have been effective, but efforts must continue to reduce further
the amount of landfill.
162. As significant quantities of food waste
are currently sent to landfill in the UK, we conclude that the
provision of separate food waste collections remains, where feasible,
an important aspect of moving food waste off the bottom rung of
the hierarchy. We therefore note with interest the example of
the Scottish Government in making separate collections obligatory
for urban businesses. We recommend that the UK Government develop
a best practice model for such separate collection, at both household
and commercial level, for Councils throughout England. In turn,
we recommend that the European Commission ensure that experiences
with such collections are shared across the EU, including their
impact on landfill volumes.
242 Directive 2008/98 Back
Q 48, Feeding the 5,000, WRAP, "Every Crumb Counts"
Joint Food Wastage Declaration Back
Companies, Damn Food Waste Back
What is AD?, The Official Information Portal on Anaerobic
A windrow is a long line of raked hay, corn sheaves, or peats
laid out to dry in the wind. Back
In-vessel composting (IVC), WRAP Back
Q 232, QQ 235-236, Q 238, ESA supplementary Back
Q 235 Back
Q 66, Q 72, Feeding the 5,000 Back
Q 66 Back
Q 232 Back
Directive 2006/112 Back
Q 36, FDF, "Every Crumb Counts" Joint Food Wastage
Q 13. Guidelines resulting from the 97th meeting of the VAT
Committee of 7 September 2012, Document C-taxud.c.1(2012)1701663-745 Back
Q 36 Back
Q 221 Back
Q 36 Back
About us, Feeding America Back
Feeding the 5,000, "Every Crumb Counts" Joint Food Wastage
Feeding the 5,000 Back
Q 69 Back
Q 69 Back
Q 47 Back
Q 48 Back
Q 48 Back
Q 13 Back
Q 72, Q 203, Q 245, Feeding the 5,000 Back
Q 245 Back
Q 203 Back
Q 235, Q 247, Q 251, Defra Back
Q 250 Back
Q 72 Back
Q 7, Defra Back
Q 7, Q 72, Q 200, Q 236, Feeding the 5,000,
Q 236, Q 255 Back
Q 203 Back
Shropshire Council Back
Q 239, Q 245, ESA supplementary, Greater Manchester
Waste Disposal Authority Back
Q 255, ADBA supplementary, WRAP Back
Zero Waste Regulations, Scotland Back
Science and Technology Committee, Waste or resource? Stimulating
a bioeconomy (3rd Report, Session 2013-14, HL Paper 141) Back
Overview of Waste in the UK Hospitality and Food Service Sector,
WRAP, November 2013 Back
Macerators - the impact on sewers, Water UK Back