Making Haste To Zero Waste

New regulations in Scotland foster a circular economy and biogas development.
By Ron Kotrba | April 21, 2015

Scotland is in the midst of implementing a very ambitious, noble goal: becoming a zero-waste society. According to the government, in 2009, Scotland produced 17.1 million metric tons of so-called waste, another term for resources that have largely been untapped or that have had monetary and environmental costs as landfilled materials. Estimates show that the value of household waste alone in Scotland surpasses £100 million ($148.1 million). In 2010, the Scottish government launched its Zero Waste Plan, which exceeds its requirements as a member of the EU under the European Commission’s revised Waste Framework Directive (rWFD).

Scotland’s Zero Waste Plan is not just about managing waste; it’s about doing so in a way that is resource-conscious and economically stimulating to foster a circular economy. “The Zero Waste Plan is well aligned to the aims of the rWFD, and the regulations are intended to bring about the changes required under the rWFD in a way that will maximize the economic opportunities afforded by a resource-centered approach to managing Scotland’s waste,” the government states. 

The end goal of the Zero Waste Plan is to achieve a 70 percent recycling rate for all waste streams by 2025. To realize this, The Waste (Scotland) Regulations 2012 were enacted. According to Eleanor Strain with the National Operations Waste Unit at Scotland’s Environmental Protection Agency, the regulations introduce a series of measures to maximize the quantity and quality of materials available for recycling, promote closed-loop recycling over other forms of recycling, move residual waste up the waste hierarchy, drive cultural shifts in how waste is managed, and help create the market certainty needed to support infrastructure investment.

Some provisions of the regulations began Jan. 1, 2014, including the requirement that all businesses and organizations must present key recyclables for collection, and businesses that produce more than 50 kilograms (110.2 pounds) of food waste per week, such as restaurants and cafés, must present that organic waste for separate collection. Also by Jan. 1, 2014, local authorities were required to provide basic recycling services to all households. The provisions also include a ban on incinerating or landfilling any materials that were collected for recycling. Beginning Jan. 1, 2016, businesses that generate more than 5 kg of food waste per week are required to present the material for separate collection, the same date that a ban goes into effect on the use of macerators or garbage disposals to grind food waste and discharge into the public sewer system. At the same time, local authorities are required to offer a food-waste recycling service in nonrural areas. Finally, by Jan. 1, 2021, a ban is to be implemented on biodegradable wastes being landfilled.

The regulations enacted in 2012 are an important part of implementing the Zero Waste Plan, but they are just one aspect of a suite of actions under the program. Other important actions, according to the government, include the development of a waste prevention strategy, new producer responsibility commitments and actions to promote changes in attitudes to waste and behavior. Strain tells Biomass Magazine that the most challenging aspects of implementation thus far have been “raising awareness of the new duties to all the micro and small businesses across Scotland and ensuring that service provision is adequate in remote areas.”

While the new set of regulations may seem onerous to implement nationwide, Strain says that, for the most part, businesses have responded positively to the new regulations. “As long as recycling services are delivered by their waste contractor, most businesses have adapted to the change,” she says.

A report issued by Zero Waste Scotland, an organization funded by the Scottish government to enact its Zero Waste Plan, shows that the amount of food waste handled by the organics reprocessing industry in Scotland increased significantly well before the introduction of waste regulations on Jan. 1, 2014, signifying that businesses and citizens are taking this initiative seriously. Released in December 2014, the 2013 survey of the organics reprocessing industry in Scotland revealed that the overall estimated increase for inputs has been 11,000 tons, or 9 percent, from 121,000 tons in 2012 to 132,000 tons in 2013. A large increase was seen in material received from food manufacturers and processors, from 2,000 tons in 2012 to 38,000 tons in 2013.

“This report shows a significant increase in the amount of food waste being processed by the organics industry in Scotland in 2013 and it augurs well for the impact of the waste regulations on the Scottish organics sector,” says Iain Gulland, the CEO of Zero Waste Scotland. “The figures for 2013 show increases in key areas relating to the amount of waste being input, especially from local authorities, and increased employment and economic activity in the sector. One of the biggest increases was in food waste coming from local authorities. Thanks to Zero Waste Scotland’s support, more Scottish households than ever before—1.3 million—now have access to a food waste collection, and we would expect this, together with the impact of the waste regulations, to have a significant impact on the industry going forward.”

The report also indicates promising growth in the anaerobic digestion sector in advance of the regulations. The amount of input to anaerobic digestion plants in Scotland from local authorities increased by 12,000 tons between 2012 and 2013, and the Scottish anaerobic digestion sector saw a 13 percent increase in employment in the same period. Another, broader report issued by Waste & Resources Action Programme indicates that, for 2013, the anaerobic digestion sector across the entire U.K. was up by 55 percent, from 2.07 million tons to 3.2 million tons.

Scotland’s Largest AD Facility
This spring, Scotland’s largest anaerobic digestion facility will come online. The Energen Biogas facility began operating in 2011, but in January, the joint venture between Shanks Group plc and Paragon Efficiencies began a £5 million expansion project to double capacity at its Cumbernauld plant. The newly expanded biogas plant is capable of processing more than 100,000 tons of food waste per year. Robert Etherson, operations director at Energen Biogas, tells Biomass Magazine that Scotland’s Zero Waste Plan was fundamental to making the decision to invest in the expansion project in Cumbernauld. “The facility was operating at capacity,” he says, “and waste volumes were increasing as businesses prepare to meet the Zero Waste Scotland legislation.”

Peter Eglinton, managing director of Shanks’ U.K. Municipal Division, says, “Organic waste is one of the most environmentally damaging forms of waste to be sent to landfill, so I am delighted that our Cumbernauld AD facility is continuing to reduce this burden on the environment by doubling the amount of this waste it is able to process.”    

The expansion includes installation of additional depackaging equipment. “All packaged food waste is processed in the same manner, which is to remove the packaging and the liquid fraction is stored for processing to feed the digesters,” Etherson says. The facility employs a combined-heat-and-power unit that generates 1.2 MW of heat used to pasteurize the incoming waste. Energen’s prestorage capacity for depackaged food waste has also doubled in the expansion project, and another digester is being added. Furthermore, additional gas-handling equipment and electricity-generating  capacity is being installed. Originally designed to produce 2.4 MW of power, the expanded Energen Biogas facility now has 3.6 MW of installed capacity, “with a further 1.2 MW to be installed when incoming waste volumes increase further,” Etherson says.

Energen Biogas charges a gate fee for organics from multiple sources and sectors, including retail, local authorities, commercial businesses, and food and drink manufacturers, but Etherson would not disclose how much the fee is or provide details on Energen’s feedstock sources. Approximately 95 percent of the liquid fraction is used to feed the digesters, with approximately 15 percent being converted to biogas and the remaining 85 percent producing an organic fertilizer, which is applied to farmland, Etherson says.

A major announcement on the use of digestate was made in November by Quality Meat Scotland: The organization declared it was safe for farmers to use on their crops, an important move to develop markets for the biofertilizer.

“Historical concerns over the safety of applying compost and digestate to land have now been addressed to an extent which has allowed us to achieve significant progress and substantial revision of the previous restriction on their use by members of the assurance scheme,” said Suzanne Woodman, QMS brands integrity manager, last November. QMS stated that concerns had previously been raised that anaerobic digestion could actively cultivate the Clostridium botulinum organism, but published information relating to this was very limited, the organization states. Three research projects have been completed, the most recent in July, which confirm no significant growth of the organism in anaerobic digestion. As a result, the Bulk Organic Fertilizers section of QMS’ Quality Assurance Standards now allows composts and digestates to be applied to land, provided they are PAS 100 and PAS 110 certified, meet additional physical contaminants restrictions and are applied in accordance with guidance provided. According to WRAP, PAS 110 certification puts controls on input materials and the management system for the process of anaerobic digestion and associated technologies and specifies a minimum quality of whole digestate, separated fiber and separated liquor, among other parameters.

“This decision by Quality Meat Scotland to permit the use of compost and fertilizer products derived from food waste is a breakthrough for a circular economy in Scotland,” Gulland says. “Food and other organic wastes contain nutrients which are important to plant growth, so it’s appropriate they are returned to the soil when it’s safe and right to do so. Zero Waste Scotland has worked extensively with the organics recycling sector over several years to develop a robust body of evidence on outputs from compost or anaerobic digestion facilities. It’s now clear that these products, when made to a quality specification, do not pose a risk to human or animal health. This will help us advance toward our goal of diverting food waste from landfill, on which a great deal of progress has already been made, and will help farmers reduce their reliance on oil-based fertilizers. This decision opens up a potential new market for these products, but it is vital that the whole food waste supply chain responds by enabling the organics recycling industry to deliver consistent, high-quality materials to farmers who want to use them. If they do, this is a clear win-win, for farming and for zero waste.”

Zero Waste Scotland is providing direct support to the industry through various initiatives. De minimus matching grant funding up to £170,000 is available to cover start-up costs for commercial food waste services or additional infrastructure at existing treatment facilities. Zero Waste Scotland is also providing free, two- and three-day consultancy support for PAS 100 and PAS 110 certification, respectively. 

Ultimately, establishing a circular economy conscious of the finiteness of  precious resources, the empowerment of economic stimulus and the fragility of the environment takes tremendous work, but the rewards are high. “The circular economy presents a huge opportunity for Scotland, with projected benefits for business and our economy,” says Louise McGregor, head of circular economy for Zero Waste Scotland. “We are gearing up support for businesses, building on our strong evidence to understand the opportunities better and working with businesses directly to help them develop more circular practices. Establishing a circular economy will take change at all stages in our traditional make-use-dispose system, and by focusing on all the aspects—from design to business support—we hope to stimulate change, which will help Scotland achieve a more sustainable economy.”

Author: Ron Kotrba
Senior Editor, Biomass Magazine