Since the beginning of the lockdown in the UK in March, the waste industry has been impacted significantly despite the sector receiving key worker status. According to a survey by ADEPT, 90% of Household Waste Recycling Centres shut down within the initial few weeks, while overall municipal waste increased by 20%, and commercial and industrial waste dropped by half.
Moreover, with hoarding of supplies and food/alcohol deliveries going up, the composition of household waste moved towards more glass and plastic, much of which would have been recycled in a ‘normal’ scenario.
An analysis from the University of Southampton indicated that the environmental impact of this increased household waste is critical. The closing of charity shops and the reduced recycling capacity means that much of household waste, including food waste, is incinerated or sent to landfill, which increases pollution levels. As reported by numerous media including the Press & Journal, fly tipping increased exponentially during the lockdown period.
In addition, much of the 1.9 billion pounds worth of groceries that were hoarded at the start of the lockdown has gone to waste. Disrupted supply chains and restricted imports led to further food shortages.
The analysis indicated the need to move towards a circular economy, where food waste is recovered and returned to the manufacturers, in order to have a more sustainable future.
Positive food waste management behaviours in lockdown
Despite the fears of a food waste disaster owing to panic buying, WRAP reported a 34% wastage reduction in four key items such as bread, milk, chicken and potatoes.
Moreover, UK citizens bought more fresh produce, more life-long products, and less pre-cut vegetable packs and ready-to-eat meals, which meant throwing away less food.
But now that the country has started to open up in phases, how can UK households continue to combat food waste accumulation? By following these three practices:
1. Decluttering the fridge
Having a well-stocked fridge at home is always a good thing. However, overfilling the fridge with groceries could lead to forgetting about a good proportion of them, which means they go to waste. UK citizens should be mindful about the quantities they buy and make sure that they place the newer items at the back of the fridge so that the older items get used up first.
If, however, they do end up with extra groceries, it is vital to think of creative ways to preserve them. For instance, one could pickle vegetables or convert fruits into sauces and jams. Tired vegetables can be used in soups. This not only reduces wastage but also provides a delicious treat.
2. Making use of the freezer
Freezing is one of the easiest ways to preserve food. One can freeze extra portions from the meals they cook so that they always have something healthy to eat on the days they don’t feel like cooking. Freezing is also a good way to store produce.
For instance, one can freeze the beans and vegetables that are not firm enough for a salad and use them later in a soup or smoothie. Also combining excess herbs with olive oil and garlic and freezing them in the ice tray can be a quick and tasty addition to pastas and salads.
3. Composting the leftovers
Composting is an excellent way to convert leftover food into nutrition for plants. UK citizens can compost leftovers at home even if they don’t have an outdoor garden. There are several countertop composting systems available for people who maintain small herb gardens or houseplants indoors.
While the UK households handled these difficult times by being resilient and resourceful, the local takeaway outlets were not so lucky. Unusual fluctuations in demand have increased food waste generated by those businesses, rising from an average of £111 per restaurant per week in normal times to £148, reports The Guardian.
Despite the fact that households were wasting less food, their erratic ordering patterns caused the takeaway outlets to throw high quantities of food waste into the bin. That shows people in general still need to be informed about the perils of food waste and how they can manage it.
Two things the UK businesses should do
1. Educate customers about food expiry dates
A major reason for food wastage is that it often gets thrown out before it actually goes bad. This is because customers are guided by the ‘best before’ dates on food packets, which often do not indicate its actual spoilage date but simply a suggested date to use the food by.
Instead, food businesses, specifically grocers and supermarkets, should add ‘use by’ dates, which more accurately represent when the food is past its best quality. This will allow customers to use up everything that they buy and reduce unnecessary expenditure.
2. Implement Anaerobic Digestion technology
Anaerobic Digestion (AD) technology refers to the creation of waste management systems in which waste products are consumed by microorganisms in an environment devoid of oxygen. There are both wet and dry digestion technologies available.
This is an excellent way for supermarkets and food manufacturers to dispose of their surplus food in a sustainable manner. In addition, Anaerobic Digestion creates biogas as a by-product, which can be used as an alternative fuel to provide power, cooling or heating. This can help combat air pollution and the greenhouse effect.
Summing it up
What if we told you there is a system that, within 24 hours, reduces food waste by up to 70% to digestate. Or that our AD system can generate power from your food waste on site? Waste2ES’ iD-R systems use AD and aerobic digestion technology and are apt for businesses with low to high volume mixed food waste requirements.
Smart food waste management practices (including deploying one of our systems) can help supermarkets, pubs, and restaurants save money and convert the food waste into a valuable resource. What do you think?