Around 4.5 million tonnes of food is thrown away by households in the UK every year, and most of it could have been eaten. That is enough to fill 38 million wheelie bins, or 90 Royal Albert Halls. Avoiding throwing out food that could have been eaten will save you money and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Why is it important to recycle food waste?
Food waste that is not recycled may be sent to landfill where it rots, causing a huge negative impact on the environment by releasing methane – a harmful greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Some local councils send their non-recyclable waste to be incinerated to create useful energy. However, food waste is composed of about 70% water, requiring considerably more energy to burn it, making this a less efficient method of disposal than recycling.
More and more people are recycling their food waste. If we all stopped wasting the food which could have been eaten, it would have the same CO2 impact as taking 1 in 4 cars off UK roads.
How is food waste recycled?
Many local authorities now collect food waste, which can be recycled in several ways including:
This involves mixing food waste with garden waste – shredding it and then composting it in an enclosed system for around 2-4 weeks at temperatures of up to 70°C. This speeds up the composting process and ensures any harmful microbes are killed off. The material is then left outside to mature for a further 1-3 months with regular turning and quality checks before going on to be used as soil conditioner.
This process uses microorganisms to break down food waste, animal manure, slurries and energy crops in the absence of oxygen, inside an enclosed system. As it breaks down it gives off methane, which is collected and converted into biogas and used to generate electricity, heat or transport fuels. It also creates a nutrient-rich digestate that can be used as a fertiliser for agriculture and in land regeneration.
How is it used?
Food waste that is recycled also has many uses. It can be converted into fertilisers for agriculture or converted into natural forms of energy which are a good alternative to fossil fuels.
Good to know
The average family throws away around £720 of food shopping every year – equivalent to an annual utility bill. Home composting is a great way to stop certain types of food waste ending up in landfill, and our gardens will really thank us for it.
How to recycle and reduce food waste at home
If you live in an area that has a local food waste recycling collection service, you can use this to dispose of anything you can't eat, or compost at home.
A food waste caddy in your kitchen can help you to separate out your food waste for recycling and composting. This can be emptied into your compost bin or council food waste bin every couple of days.
Your local authority may recommend that you line your food waste caddy with a liner or newspaper. Only use liners that are recommended by your council as some may not break down in the composting process.
Where possible keep your bins out of direct sunlight and keep the bin lid closed.
Only buy what you need and eat what you buy. For ideas, recipes and simple tips to help you reduce the amount of food you waste visit the Love Food Hate Waste website. You could also try to compost at home.