UK to divert food waste from landfill for bioenergy

By Susanne Retka Schill
Sainsbury's, a U.K. supermarket chain, aims to become a zero-waste company by year's end by processing its food and meat waste into bioenergy. The initiative began in January in Scotland with approximately 42 tons of food waste per week from 28 stores being diverted to make biofuels and electricity.

In making the announcement at the Zero Waste Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, on Jan. 21, Alison Austin, Sainsbury's environment manager, said each ton diverted from the landfill will generate enough power for 500 homes and save three tons of carbon dioxide compared with fossil fuels. "Scotland is at the forefront of our wider U.K. plan to completely cut out dependence on landfills," she said. "This is the first step in a plan that will see Sainsbury's stop using landfills for food waste by this summer and stop using landfills completely by the end of the year."

Sainsbury's is the first to sign up with long-time renderer PDM Group for both meat and food waste processing. PDM Group developed biomass power technology when the country faced the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or mad-cow disease) outbreak a decade ago. The company developed bubbling fluidized bed combustion technology capable of destroying the animal proteins in carcasses to be incinerated in BSE eradication efforts. PDM Group opened its first meat and bonemeal combustion plant in Widnes, England, in 2000, and it now handles approximately 2,000 metric tons of food waste per week. The system generates eight megawatts of power to the electrical grid, and supplies steam from a combined-heat-and-power system to an adjacent chemical factory. Along with generating power, the facility extracts and recycles waste vegetable oils for use in its own facility, and supplies oil for biodiesel production to U.K.-based Argent Energy Ltd.

PDM Group is expanding its renewable energy capacity in Widnes to handle an additional 100,000 tons of meat and food waste per year, doubling its generating capacity.

Construction of a second energy and recycling center at the company's rendering plant in Nuneaton, England, is expected to be complete in two years. It received permission earlier this year to construct the first of a planned system of anaerobic digesters across the U.K. to handle the anticipated growth in food-waste recycling. The first anaerobic digester, located in Doncaster, England, is expected to begin taking Sainsbury's food waste in late 2009. The plant will handle approximately 45,000 metric tons of food waste per year with a two-megawatt generating capacity.