Waste Management: Food & Drink Winner: Sainsbury’s

By diverting all of its food waste from landfill - a key requirement of its 20 by 20 Sustainability Plan - Sainsbury's now claims to be the UK's largest user of anaerobic digestion.

Last year Sainsbury’s launched its 20 by 20 Sustainability Plan to much acclaim. A number of the commitments under the plan relate specifically to waste and resource use, but for the retailer the most important one was to use anaerobic digestion (AD) as its preferred disposal route for food waste that is not suitable for donation or animal feed.

Considering the UK throws away 15 million tonnes of food annually, half of which is from businesses, it was a pressing issue that the company wanted to address. While Sainsbury’s already undertakes careful stock management and price reduction as products near end of shelf life, it realised it needed to change its approach from waste disposal to resource recovery.

Currently, any surplus food fit for human consumption is donated to Fareshare. Anything not fit is sent to animal charities, while bread waste goes to animal feed. In 2011-12, 14,000 tonnes of waste was disposed of this way. However residual food waste presented a dilemma – the company faced three options; sending food waste to landfill, for rendering or to AD.

The retailer decided its preferred route should be AD. It not only helps meet zero waste to landfill targets, but also ensures the company can become more environmentally responsible due to greater useful outputs (biogas, heat and compost) which benefit both energy and farming industries.

Four years ago a strategic decision was taken to support the growth of AD and Sainsbury’s delivered its first waste food shipment to a Northamptonshire AD site. Since December 2011, all food waste from depots, supermarkets and convenience stores, which cannot be donated to charity or turned into animal feed, is now sent to AD.

All this waste is segregated and backhauled by delivery vehicles on return journeys to either Sainsbury’s depots or its AD partner’s depots where it is consolidated before being sent for processing. These logistics have reduced direct store waste collections by 60%, with collections from nine depots versus 570 stores, saving road journeys and carbon emissions.

In 2011-12, 30,000 tonnes food waste was sent to AD, reducing carbon emissions and creating 2MW/hour – enough energy for five stores annually. Waste disposal costs have been significantly reduced and as a result of this move, Sainsbury’s claims to be the largest single user of AD technology in the UK.

Project success came from effective stakeholder engagement. Store colleagues were trained to deal with food waste to ensure legislative requirements were met. Logistics helped to adapt the backhauling stage and thus consolidation of the food waste.

Regulatory bodies were also consulted to ensure any obstacles could be overcome, such as the correct handling of raw meat and eggs. Meanwhile AD suppliers were asked to bid on consolidation and processing all food waste, so avoiding further waste disposal treatments.

The retailer has further signalled its support for the technology by directly contracting through power purchase agreements for green energy (4.5% of our demand) – this includes AD plants. It is also directly investing in Tamar Energy to build 100MW of AD capacity, this will enable its food suppliers to have access to 40 planned UK wide sites.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Sainsbury’s has bitten the bullet to divert food waste through AD. This sends out a very powerful message – it is far away the biggest impact project

Arla Foods
Biffa and Moy Park
Biffa and Midcounties Co-operative

More information about the Sustainability Leaders Awards is available here.


Energy Efficiency: Sainsbury’s

Waste Management: Food & Drink: Sainsbury’s

Sustainability Reporting: Coca Cola Enterprises

Renewable Energy: Northumbrian Water Group

Best Environmental Consultancy: Arup

Sustainability Practitioner: Kirsten Henson, KLH Sustainability

Water Management: ABP Food Group

Sustainable Transport: London 2012

Sustainable Building: P+HS Architects

Carbon Management: The Co-operative Group

Stakeholder Engagement: Sony Europe

Waste & Resource Management: Nextek

Sustainability Communications: The Co-operative Group

IEMA Graduate Award: Lorna Philbin

Sustainability Leader: Dale Vince, Ecotricity


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