Don’t just bin it – recycle your waste

Reporter:

Rob Bellis

WITH your help, local authorities can recycle many waste products such as plastic and glass bottles, cans, paper and cardboard.

Garden waste can also be collected separately and composted – in Flintshire your grass cuttings and trimmings are used to produce a high-quality organic compost.

But what about the food that we throw away?

It can, like garden waste, be composted, a method which many authorities in Wales have adopted, but what if you could use this waste to generate electricity?

This is exactly what is being implemented by Flintshire Council’s environmental directorate in partnership with their neighbours in Denbighshire and Conwy.

The Flintshire food waste collection service has already been rolled out to 24,000 households across the county and has been receiving excellent feedback.

Householders are given two bins – a small silver ‘kitchen caddy’ that is for indoor use and come with bio-degradable corn starch bags and a larger green outdoor bin into which the bags are placed when they are full and, from which, they are collected weekly.

The bins are intended exclusively for food waste and this waste has a specific destination – an anaerobic digester which breaks it down into agricultural fertiliser and uses the gas from the process to produce renewable energy.

Anaerobic digestion is widely used in continental Europe but is still relatively unknown in the UK and Flintshire is one of the first local authorities in the country to be using it to dispose of food waste.

The food waste collected in the county is currently taken to a digester at Biogen Greenfinch’s facility in Ludlow, Shropshire.

A new digester, servicing a partnership of the three North Wales authorities is due to be constructed in the region by 2012.

Environmental Services Manager, Andy Macbeth explained: “We are currently working with Denbighshire and Conwy to develop a facility for the three authorities on the site of a former abattoir in Rhuallt which will have about 15,000 tonnes capacity.

“Anaerobic digestion a microbiological process in which food waste is broken down by bacteria in an oxygen free environment in a sealed container,” Andy continued.

“The process produces a liquid which is drawn off and used as a fertiliser. A digestate is produced which is also used as fertiliser.

“The gases generated are captured and used to run a generator which powers the whole plant. The excess energy is sold on to the national grid.”

Anaerobic digestion is recognised as a highly efficient way of dealing with waste whilst simultaneously generating renewable power.

In the UK there are currently only a handful of digesters like the one in Ludlow but, in Germany, there are already about 400.

And it is by no means a new technology – our continental cousins have been utilising it for many years.

Andy and his team are confident that the scheme will be successful and are hoping that it can be expanded in the near future.

They are also hopeful that it will help to encourage people to change the way they eat in order to cut down on waste.

Eryl House, recycling and waste education officer said: “My job is to get out on the campaign trail, along with other staff, and to get the word out about the services on offer.

“The food waste collection service has received a great response, people have been ringing up to say how wonderful it is which is very nice.

“We are hoping that if people see how much food they are wasting they will change their eating habits.”

And, it is staggering just how much perfectly good food is wasted each year in Wales.

“About 350,000 tonnes of edible food is thrown away each year,” Eryl continued.

“A lot of it is because of buy one get one free offers and people simply buying too much food. It is a real eye-opener and not only would it cut down on waste, it would save money.”

The scheme is part of wider efforts to reduce waste and encourage recycling and is in line with Welsh Assembly Government policy.

Methane gas released by decomposing food waste is harmful to the environment but, by using anaerobic digestion, it can be used to produce cleaner, greener energy.

Cllr Nancy Matthews, lead member for waste management and strategy in Flintshire, said: “It’s been very carefully put together and we’ve had a lot of compliments about the way it’s been dealt with. Where we are taking it, in Ludlow, they are very complimentary because only about two per cent of it is contaminated rather than what they usually get which is about 10 per cent and that is down to the support of the residents.

“We have just carried out a survey and people have come back with some useful comments which we are listening to so that it can be further improved by the time it’s rolled out to other households.”

“It’s a brilliant scheme and I wish I had it at my house already!”

See full story in the Leader

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