Commercial food waste management is an ever-evolving beast, with legislative developments in different parts of the UK and ingrained kitchen practices influencing customer behavioural patterns. Foodservice design consultant Radford Chancellor surveys the landscape and picks out the main solutions on offer in the industry today.
"Food waste has always been a problem. In the UK, we generate about 8.3 million tonnes of food and drink waste every year and this costs catering businesses money.
In addition, the environment suffers as the waste sent to landfills produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, which is 23 times more potent than CO2.
Since 2007, landfill tax has been rising by £8 each year, which means by 2014 it will be set at £80 per tonne. A floor has been set under this price meaning it will not be lowered until at least 2020 but it is possible it could continue to rise.
The Scottish government has passed a law that food businesses (except in rural areas) that produce over 50kg of food waste per week are to present that food waste for separate collection.
This means that it will no longer be possible to dispose of food waste down the drain in Scotland. Similarly, some local authorities in England have also banned the disposal of food waste down drains.
Inevitably, there is a cost for having food waste collected. However it is possible to reduce this, using a variety of solutions.
Food waste macerators are the most common solution. They provide an easy and convenient way of reducing the mass of food waste slightly.
Another possible solution is anaerobic digestion, a treatment process which harnesses natural bacteria. From biodegradable materials like food waste, it produces biogas and a residue known as digestate.
Anaerobic digestion has a high investment cost as a macerator is required before processing waste can begin. Once the treatment process is finished, the liquid is collected by tanker while the digestate may be removed by processing, or the liquid can also be put down the drain — but this is seen as unfriendly environmentally and has therefore been banned in some areas of the UK.
Food waste provides energy, moisture and nutrients for micro-organisms, and businesses can treat it on site by using a composting unit. By composting food waste they provide themselves with a valuable resource while getting rid of food waste collections.
One of the most efficient ways of dealing with catering food waste is by using a food waste processing machine. These come in various different sizes from standalone units for small kitchens to large multi-drop-off disposal systems with a central de-waterer for larger businesses with a number of kitchens. The set-up costs vary from £15,000 to £120,000 depending on the size of the operation.
The key advantage of these systems is in reducing the food waste volume by up to 80%. Thus the number of food waste bins and increasing collection costs are reduced. This de-watered food waste can also be used for biomass for producing energy on or off site. The return on investment on a food waste processing machine is around three years, impressive by any standards.
The reality is that waste management for catering operations is continuing to evolve, and is ever influenced by a plethora of developing and maturing legislation from both national and local government."
Radford Chancellor is a director of Radford Chancellor Ltd, an independent catering and foodservice consultancy.