Conducted in the UK, a recent study released in May 2016 by the Renewable Energy Association stipulates that food waste can equal economic benefit. Food waste is part of what is called biowaste, with other biodegradable organic waste like garden waste, wastewater sludge, cattle manure, etc. The main difference between food waste and the latter is that most of the food waste is not currently treated separately from inorganic residual waste, which translates into the literal waste of organic matter that presents an obvious economic and energetic potential in terms of anaerobic digestion. Olleco, the only company dedicated to the collection of food waste in the UK, has funded the study.
Is it cheaper to treat food waste separately?
The main objective of the study was to determine whether the induced savings of treating food waste separately can be greater than the additional costs of collecting food waste apart from inorganic residual waste. According to the study hypothesis, treating only food waste is more than four times less expensive than to treat regular residual waste. Also, by collecting organic and inorganic residual waste separately, it is possible to reorganize and optimize the collection frequency of both types and lower by up to £10-20 the overall collection costs per household annually for example.
Commercial or domestic, government action is key
Even though commercial and domestic waste management are organized and conducted relatively differently, the actual benefits of treating food waste separately still remain comparable. While most businesses must deal themselves with how they dispose of their waste, domestic waste is basically under the responsibility of municipal authorities, commonly known as councils in the UK. On the commercial side, the study points out that market forces would not be strong enough to trigger quickly enough the transition to the distinct collection and treatment of food waste. Concerning the domestic side, municipalities must intervene and make possible for their citizens to separate food waste from regular waste for collection before treatment through dedicated bins and collection days.
Thus, one can come to the conclusion that government action will be key to materialize the transition. Legislation, such as the waste hierarchy that was implemented in 2011 in England and Wales, will make it possible to push businesses and municipalities to adapt their waste management to preserve food waste in order to exploit its crucial potential. Besides, this strategy has worked out well elsewhere in the UK: “[…] new regulations requiring source separation of food waste by councils and food businesses have proven to be an effective tool in Scotland.”
Finally, if businesses and municipalities wish to benefit directly from treating their food and organic waste separately, anaerobic digestion offers the possibility to exploit its inherent energetic potential by producing combined heat & power and transportation fuel, or its fertilizing potential by selling or using digestate.
By Simon Lefebvre | 2016-06-09
Sources: Renewable Energy Association, National Geographic (image)