REA report shows food waste collected separately will save money

By Katie Fletcher | June 01, 2016

A recent report entitled “The Real Economic Benefit of Separate Biowaste Collections” released by U.K.-based Renewable Energy Association shows that food waste collected separately in a majority of situations can reduce costs for businesses and local authorities.

The U.K. has a legally binding recycling target of 50 percent by 2020. According to the REA, the U.K. is presently at 45 percent and falling, with no clear plan from government to improve this performance.

The REA recognizes in the report that although it is counterintuitive for many organizations, a number of factors can actually reduce costs compared to regular general (residual) waste collections. These factors include separate food and other biowaste collections require fewer general waste collections (once the putrescible material has been removed on a weekly basis), separately collected food and other biowaste significantly reduces the weight of general waste collections, which in turn reduces the cost of disposing of general wastes in landfill (lower weight reduces gate fees charges by landfills), and gate fees for the separately collected food waste are significantly lower at anaerobic digestion (AD) or composting facilities compared to landfill sites.

In 2014, the Scottish government introduced legislation to make the segregation of food waste mandatory for councils and food businesses. Similar legislation is now in place in Northern Ireland, and with Wales poised to move in the same direction, Fergus Healy, the food waste and AD director with Olleco, believes the time is right to introduce the same legislation in England. “A major reason for the slow progress of separate food waste collection services in England to date is a concern about costs,” Healy stated in the report. “As a result of the work, we are convinced that the economic case for mandatory separation of food waste is as strong as the environmental one.”


The report states that there appears to be around 1.85 million metric tons of U.K. commercial and industrial (C&I) food waste from relatively large producers that is currently being disposed of through thermal treatment or landfill, or whose fate is unknown. This is approximately 4 percent of all U.K. C&I waste.

According to the report, by examining the change in the waste management costs of four example businesses under different sets of assumptions it shows that requiring food businesses to take up separate collections will increase the efficiency of food waste collection services, bringing down the costs and improving the business case for all food waste producers to take up separate collections. Also, under a mandatory separate collection system, a business that produces around 500 kilograms of food waste per week will save over £900 ($1,304) per year compared with the expected cost of residual waste collections, based on approaches to pricing already widely used in the market. Within a system that uses pay-by-weight pricing, even small food producers will make savings by introducing separate food waste collections, the report finds.

In addition to the direct savings, there is evidence that separating food waste will help to increase and improve dry recycling, leading to further waste collection savings for businesses, as well as helping producers identify and prevent food waste.

However, the report states that market forces alone will not produce these benefits quickly or effectively enough in comparison to government intervention, so a mandatory requirement on food businesses to separate food waste will therefore enable them to make savings, which are less likely to be achieved without legislation.

Besides commercial waste, household waste was also discussed in the report. Biowaste (garden and food waste) is already a significant part of the England’s municipal recycling. Of the 10.03 million metric tons of household waste collected for recycling in 2014, garden waste (including mixed food and garden) accounted for 39 percent, while separately collected food waste comprised 3 percent.

The report identified that there still remains substantial opportunity for the contribution to increase. Estimates indicate that food waste still comprises around 30 percent of household residual waste, and that these collections are less widespread than garden waste. The report states, while over 90 percent of English local authorities offer a garden waste collection, 45 percent offer no facility to separate food waste from residual waste.

Based on WRAP data, for authorities where weekly residual waste collections are currently in place, a move to weekly separate food waste collections and biweekly residual waste appears to consistently lead to considerable savings—typically between £10 to £20 per household per year—without any other changes to the waste and recycling system.

Where councils already collect residual waste biweekly, indirect savings offer the opportunity to implement food waste collections while maintaining or reducing councils’ overall waste collection costs.

According to the report, in order to facilitate progress, the government could consider taking other action to promote separate biowaste collection. This could include requiring or encouraging collectors of commercial residual waste to apply an element of weight-based charging in their pricing system; addressing the coordination difficulties that can arise where two tier authorities seek to address biowaste, to enable Waste Collection Authorities and Waste Disposal Authorities to work together so both can save money; helping local authorities to renegotiate waste collection and treatment contracts that appear to act as a disincentive to separate collection of biowaste; or removing confusion regarding the status of AD by making it clear that, where the resulting digestate meets the AD Quality Protocol, AD is a form of recycling, not energy recovery.

The report was sponsored by national food waste collector Olleco and independently written by Eunomia Consulting. It is part of a larger campaign, led by the REA, for U.K.-wide separate food waste collections.

The full report can be downloaded here.