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Food for Thought at the ADBA National Conference

‘When food waste can’t be prevented, we want more of it going to AD,’ says Dr Peter Maddox, Director of WRAP UK. Outlining the organisation’s priorities here, he calls for closer collaboration with ADBA to optimise food waste feedstock for AD and facilitate more joined up thinking in government on resources recovery.

I remember WRAP’s intensive efforts, some years ago, building new Anaerobic Digestion (AD) capacity in the UK, developing markets for the nutrient-rich digestates in agriculture and horticulture, and, with the British Standards Institution and others, creating the PAS 110 standard for AD digestate, to build market confidence. This was one part of a systemic, multi-faceted approach to creating sustainable markets for biowaste, especially food, and diverting it from landfill, that was set out in the Government’s AD Strategy and Action Plan, published in 2011.  We were aware, even then, of the carbon benefits of AD and we were pleased to play a key role in growing this important sector. 

Fast forwarding to more recent times, our efforts have focussed primarily on trying to increase food waste collections, especially from households. We are all hoping that, with the General Election now out of the way, implementation of the Resources & Waste Strategy is going to provide the impetus that can make this happen.

The annual conference of the Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association in December, which I was pleased to attend, was timely. With climate change high on the public and political radar and limited progress at COP25 in Madrid, how is the current sense of urgency going to translate into action? All business sectors, governments and consumers have to play their part, and the AD sector made that clear at the conference with their smart strapline ‘No Net Zero Without Biogas’.

We heard that a pathway to 2030 is ready and could lead to more than 100 new AD plants being built every year, bringing 30,000 new green jobs. What’s not to like? Nevertheless, the conference raised concerns that the market signals are just not there. It’s another sector that needs a long-term policy and regulatory framework to give investors and innovators the confidence to take action.

I imagine we are all waiting to hear the priorities of the new government, but I remain optimistic as the manifestos of all political parties addressed Net Zero in some way. Certainly Chris Stark, CEO of the independent Committee on Climate Change, and another keynote speaker at the conference, spoke of his ambitious agenda up to COP26 in Glasgow in November 2020. Let’s hope that agenda is embraced.

As I left the event, I reflected about WRAP’s priorities going forward on climate change. Being unrelenting in our focus on food waste prevention is a no-brainer. Resource efficiency, the circular economy and addressing our consumption of the planet’s resources will be in there. What about the AD sector? Yes, we want to ensure unavoidable food waste is recovered as a feedstock for AD. Defra’s recently released waste statistics showed that the amount of separately collected food waste has increased by 21,000 tonnes to its highest ever level of 420,000 tonnes, over three times the 138,000 tonnes collected back in 2010.

Yet there is so much more to collect and there’s plenty of AD capacity waiting to take it. Yes, we will have to think about non-household as well as household food waste. But I wondered if we should be doing more and where best can we deploy our expertise, work in partnership and facilitate cross government coordination in this space. I will certainly be joining up with Charlotte in the next few critical months to see how we can work together more closely. Something for all of us to mull over during the Christmas break.

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