7.5 million tonnes of organic waste now recycled
The UK sent 1.69 million tonnes of organic waste for treatment by anaerobic digestion (AD) last year, while a further 5.85 million tonnes was composted.
This marks "continued growth" in the sectors, according to WRAP, which published the annual survey of the UK organics recycling industry (ASORI) today.
Composting levels are up 4% since 2010. The sites sampled for AD are different from 2010, which has made comparisons difficult. However, WRAP said AD is continuing to "drive growth" in organics recycling with 34 new sites having come on line during the period.
These sites generated a reported throughput of 430,000 tonnes in 2012, and brought an additional 590,000 tonnes of reported operating capacity on line, mostly commercial and farm-based facilities.
The figures exclude the throughput of sites co-located with industrial sites, mainly breweries and distilleries, that process large volumes of liquid and discharge the treated water to sewer, which is estimated at "an additional 6M tonnes" of waste.
The largest source of non-agricultural feedstock to AD is food waste, around a third of which is derived from local authority collections. Levels of contamination in the waste stream were, on the whole, low; most sites reported contamination at less than 1%.
UK AD operating capacity in 2012 stood at 2.07M tonnes, which suggests the country's AD plants were not running at capacity.
Last month, shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh said, if elected, Labour would introduce a ban on sending food waste to landfill - a policy that some believe will encourage further investment in AD. The coalition government has also committed to considering landfill bans during the course of this parliament.
The Green Alliance, which has calculated that a ban would save £508M in avoided landfill costs, said this "opens the door for a cross party consensus on a policy that is good for business and the environment".
The Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association (ADBA) said banning food waste to landfill, accompanied by the introduction of separate food waste collections, "will help to reduce this waste in the first place and ensure we make the most of what's left". Charlotte Morton, ADBA chief executive, highlighted that 35% of the UK's food waste is still sent to landfill, with just 7% treated through AD.
According to Defra's AD action plan, published in August, the total number of plants in the UK has hit 110 - up from 68 in 2011. More than 200 AD projects currently have received planning permission.