Troublesome Trends

Philip Simpson, commercial director at ReFood, goes behind the headlines to look at the DCLG’s local authority waste budget boost, saying when you look more closely at the figures, the overarching trends are slightly more “troublesome”.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) recently published data into planned waste collection, recycling and disposal expenditure for 2017/18. According to the figures, councils are expected to increase spending on waste and recycling by £200m – a year-on-year growth of 5% – to a total £3.6bn nationwide.

Of this figure, some £611m will be allocated to recycling (a rise of £21m), while £841m will fund collections. The vast remaining majority will support rising disposal costs, which have increased from £1.97bn to £2.17bn over the past three years alone.

On the face of it, increased local authority investment into domestic waste management is a highly positive announcement. A 3% rise in recycling expenditure, for example, demonstrates commitment to meeting 2020 recycling targets.

On the face of it, increased local authority investment into domestic waste management is a highly positive announcement. A 3% rise in recycling expenditure, for example, demonstrates commitment to meeting 2020 recycling targets.

However, when you look more closely at the figures, the overarching trends are slightly more troublesome.

For example, as landfill space further depletes, disposal costs seem to proportionally rise. A 10% increase in less than three years is alarming, but with landfill sites nationwide close to reaching full capacity, this trend will surely continue.

So, what is the solution? Cutting costs elsewhere, such as schools and hospitals? Streamlining collection processes? Or increasing taxes – both domestic and commercial – to make up the difference? All of these options seem somewhat short-sighted.

At ReFood, we believe there is an easier way. Rather than sending resources to landfill, we believe in following the waste hierarchy to maximise value from what most people consider ‘rubbish’.

Working with businesses nationwide, we collect more than 400,000 tonnes of food waste every year, recycling it at our three UK AD sites and generating enough renewable energy to power 36,000 homes. By exporting power directly to the grid, we turn waste into a resource. The whole process is incredibly efficient – both financially and environmentally – which makes food waste recycling up to 46% cheaper than traditional landfill disposal.

Although the benefits are clear to see, there is currently no legislation in England banning food waste to landfill. Our other UK counterparts – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – are, however, ahead of the trend and already realising the resulting benefits.

Since launching our Vision 2020 report in 2013, we’ve been lobbying the government to change its approach and prevent valuable resource from being thrown away. If we were to achieve this, considerable benefits could be achieved.

In fact, if we were to realise zero food waste to landfill nationwide, in 2020 we could generate over 1.1tW of energy, 27 million fewer tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, return over 1.3 million tonnes of nutrient-rich fertiliser to farmland and save the public sector over £3.7 billion – all while reducing our national reliance on landfill.

We need an alternative to prevent waste disposal costs from getting out of hand. Although not a silver bullet, food waste recycling definitely has its role to play.

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