As you may or may not be aware, the Environment Act 2021 passed in November 2021 along with the food waste disposal rules are set to change and the implications for any organisation generating food waste in England are sizeable.

Many UK households have been separating their food waste using kitchen caddies for several years, and now DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) would like all UK businesses to do the same. In fact, plans are underway to make it mandatory for UK businesses to separate their food waste from other types of waste within the next 12 months.

This will mean that all food-producing organisations in England will have to deal with their
food waste compliantly, in order to avoid penalties. And yet, the guidance needed to adhere to these new regulations is sorely lacking.

Why is it happening?

It’s a staggering fact that globally one third of all edible food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. This unnecessary food waste is inefficient and is effectively increasing food prices for consumers and businesses. Furthermore, food waste damages the earth’s ecosystems. A fifth of territorial UK greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food and drink, mostly created during production (agriculture and manufacturing) which are needless emissions if the food and drink in question is then subsequently wasted.

Wherever possible, emphasis will always be placed on preventing excess and waste at the source. Redistribution of leftover supplies to food banks and charities has its place, however, reducing the vast quantities of food waste entering landfill has to be addressed also. The government previously pledged to reduce food waste by 20% by 2025, but the Act proposes to go a step further by committing to eliminating food waste from landfill by 2030.

You can read the Environment Act in full here and the latest DEFRA Consultation Paper here.

Will it affect you?

If you work in the food and drink, foodservice or hospitality industry, be it profit or cost sector, then the answer is yes. Any business that generates food waste will be affected. From teabags and sandwich crusts, right through to raw kitchen trimmings and uneaten prepared foods, you will no longer be permitted to put food waste into general waste and send it to landfill or incineration. You will also no longer be allowed to macerate or digest it or turn it to grey water and send it to foul sewer. These practices will no longer be compliant within the new legislation, so you will need to review your current process and begin planning for the future as soon as possible.

In addition, there are consultations going through to determine if organisations need to complete an annual food waste return detailing how much you have disposed of. Any regulations in relation to this would come into force in April 2024, with large businesses being required to measure food waste from that point and report the first set of data at the end of the 24/25 financial year.

Will it cost you?

Yes, but segregated food waste is up to five times cheaper to dispose of per kilo, than general waste. Once removed, your general waste bins will become much lighter. If you continue to place food waste in general waste, you will also likely incur heavy penalties in Landfill Tax charges. So, by this logic, the higher your volume of food waste, the more you can save.

What should you do?
For some organisations, this will be a bigger shift than it is for others – especially if there is currently no separation of waste streams in place currently.

Under the new laws it will be permitted to dry or deliquefy the waste before collection, and unlike disposers and digesters, drying and dewatering systems will be allowed to be used. So, decision-makers can either use specialist drying or dewatering equipment to help them reduce the amount of food waste they send off-site (and therefore reduce costs associated with that food waste), or they can use their own composting system on site (land permitting of course).

As a starting point, here are some thoughts:

• Review and consider the cost, space and practicality of food waste disposal systems such as food dryers and deliquefies
• If land and space allow, consider the potential of an on-site composting system, and discuss who would manage it!
• Assess and understand the potential costs associated with food waste collections e.g., estimated weight and frequency required to determine what will be more cost efficient in the long-term

Prevention is obviously the best scenario – not creating waste in the first place. But for many organisations, this isn’t always possible. Not only are there unavoidable food preparation off-cuts, but they also rely on consumers making environmentally conscious decisions about the amount of food they order and leave on the plate.

So, it’s time to start planning for your best route forward. Which may be a hard pill to swallow in the context of all the myriad of challenges currently being faced by foodservice and hospitality businesses. But by putting in place measures to minimise third-party disposal fees, comply with legislation, and contribute to a more sustainable future, you will be doing your bit to promote the long-term, positive change our planet needs.