[3 minute read]

The BEC is building a network of hubs across greater Birmingham (UK) to collect food scraps to avoid them going into landfill or being incinerated. Instead, we want to use food scraps to power our homes and fertilise our gardens.

When food is put in landfill, it starts to decompose without oxygen (anaerobic decomposition) and releases methane into the atmosphere. Not only is this a very potent greenhouse gas (84x as potent as CO2), we lose all the nutrients that were locked in the food to the landfill. What a waste…

The alternative to landfill in the UK is incineration. Birmingham, a city of 1,500,000 people, currently burns the majority of its “non-recyclable” waste. “Non-recyclable” is actually a joke since food scraps can be easily turned into energy and fertilser, but the councils around Birmingham have decided not to do it. Food waste cannot be easily incinerated, as you can imagine. Burning your apple cores and gone-off leftovers first requires a drying process because you can’t burn wet food. This takes time and also lets more methane be released into the atmosphere, and even after the drying process the energy it creates only just breaks even – but at least they don’t have to pay landfill gate fees! (sarcasm)

In the above paragraph, “non-recyclable” is in quotes because food scraps are easily recyclable, but the Birmingham City and Solihull councils have decided that it’s too expensive to take the climate-positive step of turning food scraps into energy and fertiliser. It just takes some patience and planning, which we seem to lack these days.

Fortunately for us, there are private companies that collect food scraps en-masse. Veolia is one example that the BEC has been in contact with. However, they only do bulk-collections, so it’s up to residents to turn it into a collection service, but doing this easily pays for the organiser’s time. The process is quite simple…

  1. Organise a large wheelie bin from Veolia
  2. Find members who want to avoid greenhouse gases
  3. Collect from members (or inform them where to deliver) their food scraps

That’s all, really. The UK’s Waste and Resource Action Programme charity (WRAP) estimates that households produce around 1.5 kilograms of food waste per week. Veolia offers a 240 litre (90 kilogram) bin, which means a single collecion can serve up to 60 households a week!

The BEC has been in contact with Veolia about this and has found that a single bin can cost £20 per week. That’s around £0.40 per household per week when only factoring in the collection cost and VAT. And the economy only improves with more bins.

When using Veolia, food scraps are kept from landfill and incineration and processed using artificial anaerobic digestion (AD). AD creates the perfect conditions for food waste to break down and produce methane (biogas) and compost. Instead of releasing the methane into the atmosphere like in landfills, Veolia captures it and sells it to the gas grid, which allows us to take hot showers just through processing our food scraps! The compost can be used by farmers or gardeners to grow food in the UK.

The WRAP charity further calculated that every 1000 kg of food waste diverted from landfill, 750 kg of CO2 is kept out of the atmosphere because “biogas” replaces natural gas (fracking) and compost replaces chemical fertilisers. That means every week, on average, your household keeps almost a kilogram of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, helps the UK reach a carbon-neutral gas grid, and promotes natural fertiliser use over chemical fertilisers for food growing. Nice one.