skip to Main Content

“Food waste recycling through anaerobic digestion key to achieving carbon and cost savings for Local Authorities” – says ADBA

“Food waste recycling through anaerobic digestion key to achieving carbon and cost savings for Local Authorities” – says ADBA

Trade body publication highlights the environmental and economic benefits for UK municipalities of collecting and treating food waste through anaerobic digestion

  • The UK generates 9.5m tonnes of food waste every year. Recycling this food waste through anaerobic digestion (AD) could generate 10.5TWh of green energy and 8m tonnes of biofertiliser – helping achieve Net Zero targets, reduce costs, whilst also increasing energy security and improving soil health.
  • From 2023, the food waste hierarchy (1) will be made legally binding for Local Authorities, requiring them to collect food waste separately and recycle all that can’t be redistributed – with treatment through AD named as the government’s ‘preferred option’.
  • An additional 4m tonnes of food waste would have to be diverted to AD every year for the UK to achieve its recycling target for municipal household waste under the Circular Economy Package.
  • The Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA) has just published a guide for Local Authorities and policy makers highlighting the benefits of AD as a cost-effective waste management solution that acts as a lever to decarbonise the local economy.
  • The briefing also reveals the positive impact on behaviour change and reviews the legislation framework to develop a new waste management infrastructure.

ADBA last week launched its latest Biogas Briefing entitled “Food Waste Recycling – Anaerobic Digestion: the net zero lever for Local Authorities,” which provides an analysis of the simple but powerful benefits of Local Authorities adopting AD as a food waste recycling option to achieve net zero targets and save taxpayers’ money. At national level, it also strengthens energy security and helps restore soil health.

Methane emissions on landfill – source: UK Spatial Emissions Methodology, Issue 1, 29 July 2021.

The briefing conveys in stark details the environmental impact of leaving food waste to rot on landfill – where it emits harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – or burning it in an incinerator, which is another unsustainable method of treatment.

Instead, collecting this organic waste and taking it to AD will transform it into:

  • Biomethane – a green gas suitable for domestic heat or transport fuel, which can also be used to generate renewable electricity
  • Bio-CO2 – a stream of gas suitable for industrial use (e.g., carbonating drinks) or storage, thus reversing GHG emissions.
  • A biofertiliser (digestate), which recovers the nutrients found in all food waste and returns them to land, thus restoring soil health.

These outputs not only help capture harmful gases, displace fossil equivalents, and reduce overall GHG emissions, but producing them could also save the average local authority between £1.4m and £1.8m on a weight-by-weight basis, annually.

Where our food waste go – source: WRAP

Where implemented, separate food waste collections have also led to a reduction in the amount of food wasted which also delivers reductions in GHG emissions.

Over 300 local authorities have declared climate emergencies and set net zero targets,” said Charlotte Morton, ADBA Chief Executive. “They acknowledge that they need to act on the causes and impacts of climate change. Recycling food waste through anaerobic digestion (AD) turns “waste” into valuable, low carbon bioresources that can deliver a 6% cut in the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. Not only that, but AD is also a cost-effective, circular solution which, by ushering a sustainable waste management system and changing behaviour, will benefit the whole community in the long term.

Food waste recycling – now and ambition – Source: ADBA

England has failed to achieve its target to recycle 50% of household waste by 2020, achieving just 44%, and the government has recognised that “rolling out separate food waste collections for households will significantly impact overall recycling rates in England”.

Donna Cox, representing the Local Authorities in her role at Bracknell Forest Council at the online launch event on 27th April, commented: “This year has been a huge success in terms of waste and recycling in Bracknell Forest. Thanks to the hard work of our waste team and our residents, over 6,031 tonnes of food waste has been collected and recycled. This monumental effort has prevented the equivalent of 3,719 tonnes of CO2e from entering the atmosphere. Thank you to everyone who is doing their best to recycle more and waste less. By separating our recyclable waste more efficiently and reducing our residual waste, we really can make a difference.

Another speaker, David McKee, CTO of the lead sponsor for the briefing BioCapital, said: “Anaerobic Digestion of food waste holds the key to unlock the path to help us meet Net Zero targets, via renewable electricity, cleaner transport fuel, decarbonising the gas grid, replenishing our soil health and renewable CO2. The potential of AD can no longer be overlooked, and I call on the support of our Local Authorities and businesses to use AD as the key to unlock our sustainable future.

He was joined by Brian Farrell, of Ashfords – a law firm with a specialist clean energy and resource management division, also sponsor of the briefing – who concluded: “New regulations will increase the volume of food waste available to be treated by anaerobic digestion (AD). AD can help us drive progress towards net zero targets, contribute to energy security through biogas production and – completing the circle – create fertiliser to support further food production, using the current gas infrastructure (boilers, grid network etc) already in place across the UK. The climate case and cost saving potential is clear, ensuring that AD rises up the agenda as an important part of the overall solution, as Local Authorities review their waste and recycling operations and contracts before the 2023 rule change.


(1) The food and drink material hierarchy orders the disposal options from the most to the least preferable – starting with the prevention of waste through redistribution to people and animals, and listing AD as the preferred recycling option when the material becomes “waste.”

Source: WRAP

– ENDS –

For further information, please contact:

Jocelyne Bia, Senior Communications Consultant
e: ; tel: +44 (0)20 3176 0592

Note to editors

  • Key statistics from the Food Waste Recycling briefing
    • The UK generates 9.5m tonnes of food waste per year – 69% of which comes from households. The average household produces 243kg of food waste every year.
    • In its Resources and Waste Strategy (2018), the UK government has set a target of getting 65% of municipal waste recycled by 2035
    • It will allocate £291m of funding for Local Authorities from 2023/24
    • The waste sector accounts for 4% of all greenhouse gases emitted in the UK – 75% of which come from landfill – the government is considering banning sending organic matter to landfill by 2028.
    • 1m tonnes of food waste is sent to landfill each year, releasing 24,000 tonnes of methane – the equivalent of emissions from 950,000 cars
    • Only 20% of food waste is recycled either through AD or composting
    • An additional 4Mt of food waste must be diverted to AD every year if the UK is to achieve its recycling target for municipal household waste under the Circular Economy Package.
    • Separate food waste collections in Wales have led to a 12% decrease in food being wasted.
  •  The Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA) is the trade association for the UK anaerobic digestion (AD) and biogas industry. ADBA’s vision is to see the full potential of the UK AD industry realised so it can help the UK achieve its emissions targets and other policy goals, creating a truly circular economy.
  • How AD works
    Anaerobic digestion (AD) is the natural breakdown of organic matter when deprived of oxygen in a container called digester. The process produces biogas and a residue called digestate, which can be used as a biofertiliser. The graphic below shows the applications of biogas and digestate and circularity of the AD process.


Back To Top