Sunday, 7 June 2009

New war on waste in the UK

Only two weeks before the beginning of WRAP's Recycle Week campaign - where the theme is LET'S WASTE LESS - things are beginning to really hot up in the world of waste in a huge bid to divert millions of tonnes of rubbish from landfill by turning it into a valuable resource.

What's more, news of these significant developments is hitting the mainstream media with positive stories about new government strategies, examples of successful local solutions and enthusiastic responses from the public.

Take today for instance, with the Independent on Sunday featuring the Government's radical plans to cut the levels of rubbish in the UK. In the double-page feature "Kitchen bin war: tackling the food waste mountain" reporter Rachel Shields revealed that Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for the Environment, will this Tuesday announce some key developments in waste management.

One major step is to dispose of the "best before" labelling, which is blamed for causing confusion and making consumers over-cautious about using up food beyond the printed dates, therefore rendering perfectly good produce being sent to landfill. According to the report 53% of consumers would never eat fresh fruit and vegetables past the best before date, so its removal would be a step in the right direction, allowing them to focus on the more significant "use by" dates.

As well as changes to labelling, the Government is also expected to reveal plans to introduce new packaging sizes, increase glass collection from pubs, clubs and restaurants and expand "on-the-go" recycling provision for aluminium cans.

However amongst all this excitement, perhaps the biggest news is the Government's £10 million investment in five anaerobic digestion plants, which will compost food waste, creating both a source of electricity for homes and fertiliser for the agricultural sector.

The benefits of anaerobic digestion technologies were indeed featured on tonight's BBC Countryfile program, illustrating how food waste is managed in Ludlow, Shropshire. Presenter John Craven demonstrated how the foodbags from the council's separate collection are shredded and fed into a tank where it ferments to create methane gas. The gas is harvested using British designed technology and recycled as an energy source to power 300 homes, while nitrogen, the other by-product, is sold as fertiliser to farms.

In his report, Craven also interviewed Kim Nicholas, a local resident who supports the weekly food waste collection scheme. Responding to his question that it might be a hassle to manage a separate bin for food, she confirmed that it was no trouble at all. Furthermore, she happily related that the separate collection has made it possible for her to visualise how much food was being wasted. As a consequence she has taken steps to reduce it, a move that has saved around £30 per week in her family's grocery bills. If other consumers share this experience, this will be good news for the Government. Indeed, during the programme Philip Ward from WRAP confirmed that it is nine times better for the environment if we manage our food better and make more effective use of our leftovers.

Of course it's not just consumers who are responsible for food waste in landfill. Supermarkets have a significant role to play too, which is why it is very good news that Sainsbury's has purchased a share in the anaerobic digestion sector with plans to divert 56,000 tonnes of food waste from landfill per annum. This follows the recent announcement that Marks and Spencer has contracted waste management company Shanks to process surplus waste from its 600 stores.

As well as witnessing significant strides towards managing the targets dictated by the EU's Landfill Directive, it's great to see such positive news being heavily featured in the mainstream media, especially following the negative press that often gets stirred up.

Hopefully with feel-good stories such as those reported this weekend, this could be the start of further social and behavioural change thanks to greater public awareness and wider acceptance, complementing new opportunities presented by technological developments in the waste management sector.

It's certainly worked for me. Eighteen months ago my family created such a level of food waste that it is now unthinkable. But thanks to a greater awareness, these days we hardly have any at all and any waste that is created is eventually converted into compost using our very own Bokashi bin, a home-based solution which I discovered just over a year ago.

So I really think this week's announcements will be a great turning point for the UK. Now that I've calmed down from our recent swimming incident, I just need to bring my four year-old bin saboteur up-to-speed on the news and work on the remnants of his food waste even further. I hope that by the end of this year, we will even dispense with the Bokashi bin entirely if all goes to plan.

In the meantime, I have some major plans underway to support Recycle Week, which starts on 22nd June. More information about what I'm up to will be available soon. However, if you'd like to join in with the fun and games and make a pledge to waste less, pop over to for details on how you can get involved.

I rather like the pledge that's featured on the site. Written by Andrew from Cambridge, it says "I should be made to wear something outrageous to do the gardening in if I do not squash and recycle all my cartons." That's him not me, of course.

But if my husband's looking in all I can say is with ideas like that Mr A had certainly better watch out. I'll most definitely be after him to join in with his own war on waste and I quite fancy the idea of getting him to wear something outrageous when he next weeds the garden. So watch this space. Who knows what will happen in what is still the Almost Average household.



Mrs Green said...

Some great stories and things happening Mrs A - getting rid of the best before date would be an excellent move as so many people don't understand it and throw perfectly good food away.

I'll be catching up with the tv programmes you wrote about and getting all the latest.

Thank you! And glad you are feeling better about the swimming incident.

Have a lovely week :)

John costigane said...

Hi Mrs A,

The Countryfile coverage of AD was very welcome and should help increase the spread of this sustainable practice countrywide, though that will take time.

The BBC has been slow to take up the sustainable approach to waste. Let us hope that Zero Waste is also promoted there. This would bring more householders/consumers into the fold.

Strawberry Jam Anne said...

It's all good Mrs A and I do agree about the "best by" labelling.

There is a little something for you at my place if you have the time to pop over. A x

Almost Mrs Average said...

Hi Mrs G - there is a lot of scope and hope with the new proposals that have been announced. Exciting times methinks :-D

Hi John - with council developments in place re AD, hopefully there will be many more residents who will see zero waste as a reality. I food can be recovered, packaging can be avoided and a few reusable products put in place, it really does become a no brainer. :-D

Hi Anne....I'm coming over right now :-D Can't wait x

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