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A Guide To Simpler Recycling Of Food Waste For Local Authorities

Recycling food waste can be difficult. Many people find it hard to know what they can recycle already. Now the overriding importance of preserving the environment means food waste must be recycled, making it even more complex.

The UK government, while implementing food waste recycling in all of the UK, by April 2026, has made new rules to help make recycling easier for everyone. Our article will assist not only local authority waste managers in implementing these changes, but householders and business waste managers as well.

Keep reading to discover our implementation tips!

Key Takeaways

  • The UK ‘Simpler Recycling' initiative will be implemented in all English local authority areas by April 2026,. It will give funds to local councils to set up their own separate food waste collections. This aims to make recycling easier by consistent use of the bins provided and applying the same simplified rules across all of England.
  • Local authorities must now collect food waste every week and provide clear labels on bins and recycling information to reduce confusion. Every home will get a small bin, usually called a “caddy” just for food scraps.
  • Training for local authority staff and public awareness campaigns will be important steps. These help everyone understand new recycling methods and why separating food waste matters.
  • New changes mean businesses will also need separate bins for recyclables, food waste, and non – recyclable materials. They also should train their staff about proper disposal methods.
  • Local authorities may choose to either co-compost food waste with green (garden etc) waste or send it to an anaerobic digestion facility..
  • Composting turns organic waste into useful soil additives, but does not capture energy.
  • Anaerobic digestion produces biogas (a renewable energy) and digestate (a fertiliser), requiring more complex technology but offering greater environmental benefits.
  • According to the waste hierarchy, anaerobic digestion is the preferred disposal option and as demand for the renewable energy it provides is growing, market forces are likely to make it the cheapest option as time goes on.

Overview of the ‘Simpler Recycling' Initiative

One of the core aims of the ‘Simpler Recycling' plans is to make it easier for the public to recycle food scraps and other recyclables. It sets clear steps and timelines for local councils to follow, making recycling more straightforward for everyone involved.

The UK's ability to comply with forthcoming UK and EU recycling targets depends on this initiative, and the willingness of the general public to get involved, after every mealtime.

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Core Proposals of the Plan

DEFRA, in conjunction with WRAP, has put forward clear plans to unify recycling efforts across England. Their main aim is to make recycling easy for everyone. Every local authority will now collect the same materials.

This change means less confusion for citizens and more efficiency in processing recyclable waste. The government has committed to helping by giving funds for separate food waste collections starting January 2024.

From my own experience working with local authorities on waste management projects, I've seen how varying regulations can confuse residents and businesses alike. With this new proposal, consistency is key.

It ensures that whether you're in London or Liverpool, the rules are the same – a significant step towards achieving net zero targets and reducing plastic pollution. Local governments have been instructed on how much funding they'll receive to upgrade their collection infrastructure, making it easier for them to plan ahead and implement these changes effectively.

Implementation, by the majority (approximately 60%) of English local authorities that do not already collect food waste separately will not be easy. The allowed time period of under 2 years is tight; even for local authorities not facing financial difficulties, it is already extremely tight.

The government seems to have assumed that anaerobic digestion (AD) or suitable alternative composting facilities already exist, but that is not the case in all areas. Food waste is heavy and, therefore, expensive to transport.

AD plant operators in agriculture are limited by waste management licensing requirements, including the need for them to comply with the Animal By-Products Regulations (ABP Regs.) and may not be able to accept food waste for co-disposal.

Composting facility operators that don't have in-vessel systems may similarly not be able to accept food waste for similar reasons.

There is unused capacity among the UK's food waste biogas plants, but not enough to accept all the additional tonnage that will be anticipated, and for them to accept this waste from many areas would often require uneconomic transportation distances.

Building new food waste depackaging, separation, and recycling facilities will take more like 10 years, not 2.

Implementation Timeline

Moving from the core proposals, we now focus on how these plans will come to life through the implementation timeline. This stage is crucial for turning ideas into actions that will reshape food waste recycling.

  1. Start Date and Preparations: The initiative truly begans with local authorities receiving detailed guidelines and funding allocations from the central government (DEFRA) in March 2024. My own experience working for a metropolitan council showed me the excitement this phase generates. We spent months planning how to use our funds effectively.
  2. Training for Staff: Next, staff undergo internal training sessions. These workshops cover new recycling methods and ways to engage the community in separating food waste. It's a time of learning and growth for everyone involved.
  3. Public Awareness Campaigns: Authorities will launch campaigns to inform residents about the importance of source-separated food waste. Flyers, social media posts, and community meetings spread the word fast.
  4. Roll-Out of New Bins and Collection Schedules: Households and businesses receive new bins and food waste caddies where needed, each to be labelled and designed for easier separation of recyclables and food waste. Updated collection schedules make it simple for householders  and businesses to follow along.
  5. Monitoring and Feedback Loop: After implementation, councils monitor progress closely. They gather feedback from households, businesses, and collection crews to tweak processes as needed.
  6. Expansion and Fine-Tuning: Over time, successful strategies will be identified and best practices expanded to more areas, while less effective ones are improved upon or replaced.

Each step involves clear communication, dedication from local teams, and active participation from the community. Success hinges on everyone pulling together towards a common goal: reducing food waste through smarter recycling practices.

Initial studies have shown that in most areas of England, a 50% household engagement in the use of the food waste caddies supplied can usually be achieved within a few months of the new collection regime. At this level of participation and above, the running costs can be covered. Above 50% participation, some councils have reported a net gain in efficiency when the following gains are taken into account:

  • The weight of food waste placed in the caddies is also weight no longer disposed to landfills or incineration. Depending on the council's long-term contractual arrangements with their waste management contractor, this would be a significant saving.
  • Saving in landfill tax where residual waste was previously sent to landfill.
  • An unexpected overall gain is also found in less waste discarded overall. This has been attributed to a greater psychological awareness of waste disposal issues among people who take care to dispose of their food waste responsibly after each and every meal.

Organic recycling of food waste in 2024 and future projections

The UK generated approximately 10 million tonnes of food waste every year in 2021. However, only 51% of local authorities in England were providing a service for collecting food waste separately. Thus, this food waste is not available for proper treatment. When food waste ends up in a landfill, it can have a substantial negative impact on the environment by emitting greenhouse gases (such as methane).

UK Food waste is produced from the following:

  • 7.1 million tonnes (70%) from households.
  • 1.9 million tonnes (18%) from food processing.

The accommodation and food-service sector accounts for 1 million metric tons (10%), while the retail and wholesale sector contributes 0.3 million tonnes (2.5%).

Minimizing household food waste is therefore an important goal to consider in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with landfill disposal.

‘Simpler Recycling' and Its Impact on Food Waste Management

‘Simpler Recycling' changes how we deal with leftovers. It should ensure that local councils gain the respect of their residents for playing a big part in keeping our planet clean.

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Alterations in Food Waste Collection Regulations

The UK government has set new rules to make recycling easier. These changes will help reduce food waste going into landfills. Let's look at the key changes:

  1. Weekly Collections – All local councils must now pick up food waste every week. This frequent collection stops waste from sitting too long, which can be smelly and attract pests.
  2. All In One Bin – Dry recyclables, like paper and plastics, can now go into the same bin. This makes it simpler for people to recycle more.
  3. Clear Labels – Bins and recycling information will have clearer labels. This helps everyone understand what goes where.
  4. More Food Waste Bins – Every home will get a separate bin just for food scraps (caddies). Having a special place for food waste makes it easier to keep it out of regular rubbish bins.
  5. Composting Options – Communities are encouraged to start composting programs. Composting turns food scraps back into soil, which is great for gardens and parks.

These steps aim to cut down on the amount of food that gets thrown away. They also make recycling part of everyday life for people across the country.

Next, we'll explore how these changes affect local authorities and their role in managing waste better.

The Role of Local Authorities in Recycling

With changes in food waste collection rules, local councils now face new tasks. They need to set up systems for picking up garden rubbish and food leftovers separately. This effort needs money, and the government plans to help.

Local authorities must work closely with waste collection groups to make this happen.

They can charge for garden waste collection, which may be seen as helping balance local authority budgets, but has been counterproductive where implemented.

Where garden waste collection is not provided free of charge householders, put more garden waste in the residual waste bins, negating the reductions previously described here. In addition, fly-tipping increases at huge inconvenience to residents and high cost to these so-called “cost-cutting” councils.

Make no mistake. Finding ways to convert tossed-out food into something valuable, like compost or energy, is very important. It is essential to achieve big reductions in the problem of food waste because, if food waste emissions were compared with national carbon dioxide (global warming) emissions, food waste would be the third largest emitter after the US and China.

It’s all part of creating less trash, and when that's not possible, ensuring less trash ends up in dumps or being burned.

The Influence of ‘Simpler Recycling' on Households and Businesses

The ‘Simpler Recycling' plan changes how families and companies handle their trash. They must sort their waste better, focusing on digesting or, if not, composting food scraps and avoiding mixing in plastics that can't be recycled.

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It is projected that if all local governments collect segregated food waste, the amount of food waste will rise by 1.35 million tonnes by 2029.

This additional source-segregated organic waste (SSO) will be used to optimise the current UK anaerobic digestion treatment capacity and serve to supply SSO to new biogas production facilities that will need to be built where there will be excess waste.

Adjustments for Households

Changes are coming to how we recycle food waste at home. This will make recycling easier and help our environment.

  1. Separate your food scraps – You'll need to keep food waste separate from other rubbish. I found using a small bin in the kitchen works well. It's easy to then move this to a larger bin outside.
  2. Use provided compostable bags – Local authorities may give out special bags that break down over time. These are for your food waste. They help keep your bins clean and reduce plastic contamination in compost. The lowest cost provision of these bags is for councils to provide a roll of bags enough for 1 year at a time. Trials have shown that the additional rate of participation engendered by this more than offsets the cost of the bags.
  3. Know what goes where – Not everything that comes from the kitchen can go into the food waste bin. Things like meat bones and egg shells are fine, but plastic wrappers or leftovers still in packaging should go into regular rubbish or recycling bins.
  4. Get used to a new collection schedule – Your food waste might be picked up on different days than your other recycling or rubbish. Marking the pickup days on a calendar helped me remember.
  5. Start composting at home if you can – If you have space, consider making your own compost pile for vegetable peelings and garden waste. It's good for the garden, and you’ll have less food waste to put out for collection.
  6. Prepare for changes in charges – There might be new fees or savings related to how much non-recyclable waste you generate versus how much you recycle, including food waste.
  7. Learn about what happens to your food waste – Knowing that my scraps could turn into bioenergy or help create nutrient-rich soil made me more motivated to separate it correctly.
  8. Check guidelines regularly – Guidelines on what can be recycled and how it should be presented at kerbside collections may change as new policies come into effect.

Each of these steps not only contributes towards making our communities cleaner but also plays a part in tackling issues like climate change and land use by better managing our resources.

Adjustments for Businesses

After addressing the shifts in households, let's focus on businesses. Businesses across the UK will see significant changes under the new Simpler Recycling rules. These adjustments aim to streamline waste management practices and ensure compliance with updated legislation.

  1. Separate Collection Bins – Firms must have distinct bins for recyclables, food waste, and non-recyclable materials. This step helps reduce contamination and increases recycling rates.
  2. Education and Training – Companies need to educate their staff about proper waste disposal. For instance, we introduced workshops at our office to teach everyone about what can and cannot be recycled.
  3. Review Waste Contracts – Businesses should review contracts with waste removal companies. Make sure they align with the latest recycling guidelines and practices.
  4. Food Waste Management – With mandatory food waste collections coming into effect, eateries, cafes, and offices must separate food scraps from other rubbish. Anaerobic digestion is a good option here because it turns food waste into energy.
  5. Reducing Single-Use Plastics – The push towards cutting down single-use plastic items means rethinking packaging and utensils in business operations.
  6. Reporting and Compliance – There will be more emphasis on reporting recycling efforts accurately. Getting ahead by documenting these processes can save time later.
  7. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) – Manufacturers might need to pay more attention to product design and packaging choices due to EPR policies favouring sustainability.
  8. Invest in Compostable Alternatives – Switch from plastics that harm the environment to compostable or biodegradable options for packaging needs.
  9. Embrace Circular Economy Models – Look for ways your business can reuse materials within your operation or network, creating a closed-loop system that minimises waste.

Through these strategies, businesses can not only meet legal requirements but also contribute to a greener planet by managing their waste more efficiently.

Obstacles and Solutions in the ‘Simpler Recycling' Strategy

Local councils face big hurdles with the ‘Simpler Recycling' plan, especially around collecting soft plastics and food waste. A major challenge is making sure everyone understands what can and cannot be recycled.

From personal experience working in municipal waste management, confusion leads to more mistakes. People often throw things into recycling bins that don't belong there, like plastic film or black plastic food trays that many facilities can't process yet.

Another issue is the cost and effort needed to collect food waste separately. Councils have to find money for new bins, trucks, and staff training. They also must deal with more rules on keeping collected waste clean and sorted properly.

The solution starts with education. We need clear information on what goes where when it comes to recycling bins. It helps avoid contamination—like throwing non-recyclable plastics in with recyclables—which makes the whole batch useless.

Technology offers another way forward. Innovations in sorting and composting machines make recycling easier and more efficient. These tools can handle a wider range of materials, cutting down on manual sorting costs.

The microplastics problem

Unfortunately, another obstacle to truly sustainable management of all source-separated organics (SSO) is:

  • successfully depackaging food waste and separating the organic material in a clean condition and all the other extraneous items are also rejected from the organic pulp in a clean and, as far as possible, dry state
  • achieving this without creating microplastic pieces.

Until recently, no depackaging machines were able to do this, let alone complete this task in one very versatile machine, and many depackaging products remain on the market that fail to meet the challenge. However, at least one relative newcomer to the depackaging market has arrived that does repackage sustainably, and one is the Drycake Twister™.

Microplastic-free Twister™ technology

The 3rd generatrion Drycake Twister food waste depackaging and separation system offers significant benefits in the management and processing of source-separated food waste materials:

  • Efficiency in Handling: The system is designed to handle and process all food waste types efficiently. By optimizing the repackaging process, the Twister system reduces the time and labour typically required to manage food waste, thereby increasing overall operational efficiency.
  • Volume Reduction: One of the standout features of the Drycake Twister is its ability to significantly reduce the volume of non-recyclable waste while optimising the quality of the pulp for subsequent anaerobic digestion. This reduction in the weight of organic content left in the reject stream sent to landfills is not only crucial for the economic high-yield production of biogas, it makes the reject materials so much more easily recyclable.
  • Avoidance of microplastics: By low-destructive depackaging, microplastic is not created, in contrast with earlier generations of depackaging equipment built to provide shredding and milling. In other words, it is built to make microplastic.
  • Cost Savings: Implementing the Twister system can lead to substantial cost savings. By minimizing waste volume output/ maximizing recyclable content, the system reduces disposal costs, with excellent prospects for cash to be generated from the recyclable materials. Additionally, the streamlined process and simple internal design decrease the need for operator supervision and cut maintenance costs, further reducing operational expenses.
  • Environmental Impact: The system contributes to environmental sustainability by its low energy usage and small footprint within recycling and composting facilities.

Find out more about the Drycake Twister™ depackaging system here.

Flexibility in local approaches lets us tackle unique challenges while moving towards shared environmental goals.

 

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Composting versus Anaerobic Digestion in Food Waste Treatment

Transitioning from the challenges and potential fixes in the ‘Simpler Recycling' strategy, we delve into a vital aspect of food waste management—comparing composting with anaerobic digestion as methods of treating food waste. Both approaches play crucial roles, yet they have distinct benefits and limitations.

AspectCompostingAnaerobic Digestion
DefinitionA natural process that turns organic waste into nutrient-rich soil additive or replacement.A process that breaks down organic material in the absence of oxygen, producing biogas and digestate.
Energy CaptureDoes not capture energy.Captures energy from food waste, which can be used for heating or electricity.
End ProductImproves soil health by adding nutrients.Produces biogas (a renewable energy source) and digestate (a nutrient-rich fertiliser).
ImplementationMore common at a local level, often seen in community gardens or homes.Requires more sophisticated technology and works best in larger scale operations, often managed by waste management companies and private recycling companies.
Environmental ImpactReduces landfill waste, cutting methane emissions.Reduces landfill waste. Plus, significantly cuts greenhouse gases by capturing methane for energy use.

In my experience, while working as a waste management consultant with local authorities, I noted that many authorities prefer sending kitchen waste to composting facilities. This is likely due to the simplicity of the composting process and the immediate benefits it offers in terms of soil health.

Infographic about: Simpler Waste: Composting vs Anaerobic Digestion.
Infographic about: Simpler Waste: Composting vs Anaerobic Digestion.

However, anaerobic digestion, despite requiring a larger initial investment and more complex technology, presents an attractive alternative because of its energy production capability. It's a clear case of looking beyond the immediate to grasp the long-term advantages—chiefly the production of biogas, a clean, renewable energy source, although both provide the same significant reduction of methane emissions from landfills.

Choosing between composting and anaerobic digestion hinges on several factors, including the scale of food waste in any area, available resources/ existing waste contract commitments, and long-term sustainability goals. While composting suits smaller, community-level initiatives, anaerobic digestion is the way forward for larger operations aiming for energy recovery and a more significant environmental impact reduction.

Advancements in Recycling: Future Directions and Additional Efforts

Future recycling efforts are gearing up to be more innovative and effective. With the introduction of new circular economy targets and in particular the EU's REACH reduction target for lowering the unintentional creation of microplastics by 30% by 2030, nations like the UK are focusing on meeting compliance.

This big plan includes boosting reusing items and making sure more things can go back into the recycle bin instead of ending up in landfill. Technologies like composting and anaerobic digestion play key roles here, turning food scraps into useful resources such as biomethane or soil enhancers.

Local authorities will need to step up their game by investing more in these technologies. The government is already showing its support with funding allocations aimed at enhancing food waste recycling practices among communities.

The push towards a zero-waste future also involves tackling challenges like plastic pollution by improving recyclability of materials – think less single-use plastics and more bio-based packaging options that don’t harm our planet.

These efforts show a clear path towards sustainability, where every item disposed of finds a new life in another form, contributing to an eco-friendlier society.

Conclusion

We've explored the UK's ‘Simpler Recycling' initiative, how it's changing food waste management, and its effects on homes and businesses. This plan is to be applauded because it makes recycling easier for everyone. Local authorities now have to implement it with the UK waste management industry also due play a big role in this change.

The core task will be to find funding and set up weekly food collections with facilities in place for biogas digestion or composting the additional food waste tonnage, across all Engish local authorities.

Each local authority waste management officer will have to rethink how their services will be adjusted to help their community recycle more.

This is important work, and there is every likelihood that it will lead to:

  • less waste,
  • fewer wasted resources, and
  • a cleaner planet.

FAQs

1. What's the difference between composting and anaerobic digestion for food waste?

Composting turns food waste into nutrient-rich soil through a natural process, while anaerobic digestion breaks down the waste in an oxygen-free environment to produce biogases, like methane, which can be used as renewable energy.

2. Why should we separate food waste from other types of household rubbish?

Separating food waste helps local authorities recycle it more efficiently. This way, it doesn’t end up in landfill where it can cause harm to the environment by producing harmful gases.

3. Can plastic bags be recycled with food waste?

No, plastic bags contaminate compost and create microplastics — tiny bits of plastic that harm our planet. That’s why many places have a bag charge to encourage less use of single-use plastics.

4. How does recycling help us achieve a sustainable future?

Recycling reduces the need for new materials, cuts down on pollution and saves energy. By turning our household and domestic waste into something useful again — like turning old plastic bottles into recycled materials or creating sustainable products — we’re working towards zero waste and a cleaner world.

5. What is extended producer responsibility (EPR)?

EPR is a policy approach where producers are given significant responsibility – financial and physical – for treating or disposing of post-consumer products. It encourages companies to design more sustainable packaging and products because they’re responsible for them even after they’ve been sold.

6. Are there any schemes to make recycling easier for people at home?

Yes! Many areas offer kerbside recycling services where you can leave your recyclables outside your house for collection without mixing them with other rubbish—making recycling much simpler at home.

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