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Local Authority Food Waste Collections: A Call to Action

The draft Resources and Waste Strategy for England provides the most significant shake up in waste and recycling policy for more than a decade.  The policy proposals, which are presently the subject of a suite of industry consultation processes, are not only wide ranging in scope, but fundamentally challenge established services, systems and infrastructure.

One of the key policies to be introduced through the reforms will be the requirement for all English local authorities to collect food waste from all households within their administrative areas by the 2024/25 financial year.  This requirement is to be welcomed when considering the detrimental environmental impact of food waste arisings, with a recent study by Zero Waste Scotland showing that food waste accounted for 25% of the waste related carbon emissions in Scotland despite comprising only 5% of the nations waste stream.  With such observations likely to be reflected in the carbon analysis of England’s waste management system, the targeting of food waste looks like a quick win option.

But the identification of food waste recycling as a quick win for carbon emissions doesn’t necessarily make it an easy one.  Statistics presented by WRAP have shown that 51% of English local authorities do not presently recycle food waste, meaning that at least 160 new services will need to be designed, procured and mobilised over the next three years.

Authorities need to firstly consider the collection approach which may be best suited to their area demographics and existing refuse and recycling services.  Unlike more established dry recycling collections, food waste collections often require more specialist vehicles to optimise capacity and meet ABPR legislative requirements.  Authorities operating alternate weekly collection rounds using large 26 or 32 tonne refuse collection vehicles may want to evaluate the option of food waste pods being mounted between the cab and compaction body.  And authorities may also choose to consider whether Technical, Economic, or Environmentally Practicable (TEEP) exceptions may result in a co-mingled collection of food and garden wastes providing the best option.   It’s not only the technical suitability and practicality of these food waste collection options which needs to be understood, but the financial performance of each option, and also the availability of equipment with some vehicle manufacturers reporting 11 month lead times ahead of the expected demand.

Treatment capacity options will also need to be identified, understood and contracted in parallel with the development of collection services to provide a recycling outlet for collected material upon service commencement.  In some instances, this will undoubtedly involve building new waste treatment infrastructure which in WRMs experience can take three years from procurement commencing to commissioning and handover.

The case for food waste collections in building a sustainable waste management system is clear, as is the scale of the task facing those local authorities who must now develop and mobilise new services.  Compared to some aspects of the wider Resources & Waste Strategy, such as packaging reforms and extended producer responsibility which provide a more fundamental challenge to the structure of waste services, the direction for food waste is now clear and local authorities should feel confident to commence the task of identifying and evaluating local options.   Following a decade of working in a national policy vacuum, the challenge for local authority Officers  and their organics sector counterparts is not what to do, but doing it in a timescale that will deliver new services by 2024/25.

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