Food waste: Big issues with reaching small firms

Encouraging some businesses to separate their food waste for composting or anaerobic digestion is proving to be a challenge. Roundtable report by Eilidh Brunton of eco-friendly packaging firm Vegware.

The Waste (Scotland) Regulations introduced hundreds of businesses to food waste recycling for the first time. From January 2014, any business producing more than 50kg of food waste per week has been required to separate it for collection and then treatment through composting or anaerobic digestion.

This was a significant shift in waste management policy. So, how are we getting on?

In March, we gathered key players from across the country’s resource sector to discuss their experiences. The table below provides a snapshot of the main discussion topics. The good news is that compliance is high. The bad news is that so too are contamination levels.Large businesses have seen the potential to cut costs through better waste management and the separation of their materials for recycling. But at the other end of the scale, it’s a different story. Small firms are proving hard to reach, especially the foodservice companies like takeaways, who often feel they have no food waste to separate.

Many businesses are apparently unsure about how much food waste they produce and have therefore been resistant to bring in a separate collection.

This issue could worsen next year. Currently, only firms that generate more than 50kg of food waste per week have to separate it. Come January, this threshold will be cut to 5kg. This will capture the food waste from thousands more businesses – many likely to be even smaller than those that are already proving hard to reach.

On the flip side, it will be much clearer who needs to comply, and therefore far easier for the regulator, Sepa, to start handing out fines. Businesses will also be banned from using macerators, and this will mean they see how much food waste they create and, by turn, start to reduce it.

Contamination is more of an ongoing concern. The regulations were introduced to make Scotland a ‘high-quality recycling nation’, but we’re not there yet. From the feedback at our roundtable, contamination levels remain high. Education is the best way to tackle this: people need a better understanding of what to put in each bin, and waste collectors should continue to educate their clients.

These are the inevitable teething problems that come with any regulatory changes, especially ones at the scale and ambition of Scotland’s zero waste laws. We need to be realistic and remember that this is a 20-year plan. The regulations have put resource management on everyone’s agenda, encouraged reduction, and increased the volume of biodegradable waste being collected and turned into renewable energy and fertiliser. That alone is certainly reason for cheer 18 months in.

Video: Scottish Waste Regs Rountable

Roundtable attendees: Zero Waste Scotland, Sepa, REA Organics Recycling Group, Biffa, Changeworks, Growing Forth/FRM, Lothian and Borders Waste Management, Mitie CORE and William Tracey.

Eilidh Brunton is group recycling consultant at at eco-friendly packaging firm Vegware.

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