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Food Waste

April 08, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 183

As pressure grows within the UK to segregate and collect food waste at source, it's worth taking a look at the favoured food waste treatment process and some of the issues which affect its development.


Anaerobic Digestion (AD) is the most commonly used technology to treat food waste in many European countries.It produces a secondary fuel and by-products are produced which can be used commercially.

AD also deals with waste streams that can be difficult to minimise or recycle and therefore reduces the amount of waste being sent to landfill. This avoids landfill tax and reduces emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas, methane.

AD Process

AD is a managed biological process in which biodegradable waste is broken down by naturally occurring micro-organisms in the absence of oxygen. AD can reduce the volume of waste by approximately 60% and can be integrated with a range of other waste treatment systems.

Food waste can only be treated using AD technology if the plant is licensed and complies with Animal By-products regulations.

Segregated or mixed biodegradable waste can be treated by anaerobic digestion but treating mixed waste can result in contamination of the liquid and solid residues which can potentially make them unsuitable as soil conditioners or fertilisers.

Waste collected and brought to an AD facility is screened in the first instance to remove non-biodegradable materials such as plastics, metals, stones, etc.... Biodegradable material is then shredded to a uniform size and transferred to an enclosed, oxygen free pre-heated vessel.

Bacteria within the vessel digest the biodegradable waste over a period of up to thirty days and biogas is produced during this period. Once the cycle is completed, the digested matter is then pumped into a storage tank where biogas continues to be produced.

Residual digested material is separated to produce fibre and liquor which is normally refined for use in horticulture or agriculture. Residual waste material is stabilised and compacted in order to reduce leachate, this is then disposed of as inert waste in landfill.

Waste water produced as part of the process is passed through a treatment process to deal with nitrates.

Fuel and by-products

The process produces high levels of methane rich biogas which is used to generate electricity or heat which can be used to power the AD process itself, any excess is fed back into the grid generating a revenue income stream (this is commonly known as Energy from Waste - EfW).

Fibre is a nutrient rich by-product which can potentially be used as a soil conditioner. The quality of this fibre has to meet the Publicly Available Specification (PAS 110) standards and the end use will depend largely on the type of waste input and the extent of residual refining.

Liquor generated through the process can be used as a liquid fertiliser. However, as with fibre, the quality of this product is strictly controlled and end use depends heavily on the type of waste input and the extent of residual refining.

Waste water and water vapour is sent to a wastewater treatment plant, thereafter, if suitable it may be applied to farmland as liquid fertiliser.

UK AD Capacity

Presently, there are around 215 AD plants within the UK. These facilities have the capacity to process just over 5 million tonnes of suitable waste materials per annum with a total installed generating capacity of just over 170MW of electricity. These facilities fall into five broad categories.

  • Industrial AD plants facilities which accept wastes arising from 'on-site' activities.
  • Non industrial plants and integrated waste management facilities which accept food waste from commercial and municipal sources
  • Integrated waste management facilities are large scale waste processing sites which use various technologies to process a wide range of wastes as well as integrating food waste AD into the facility.
  • Demonstrator plants (food waste)are small scale plants which process small amounts of food waste
  • Farming AD plants process manure/slurries and purpose-grown crops
  • Sewage treatment facilities are used by the water industry as a sewage treatment method

At the present time, the UK currently generates approximately 290 million tonnes of waste per annum.Around 12 million tons of the total is made up of food and packaging waste.

With the pressure on the UK to meet fast approaching deadlines for waste reduction / recycling targets set under the European Landfill Directive;

  • By 2010, the waste sent to landfills should be 75% of that sent in 1995
  • By 2013, the waste sent to landfills should be 50% of that sent in 1995
  • By 2015, the waste sent to landfills should be 35% of that sent in 1995

and with the landfill tax escalator now at £56 per tonne (set to continue increasing by £8 per tonne per annum) and ambitious time bound targets for segregated collection and recovery of food wastes driving demand, it is clear that the AD process hasa key role to play in the hierarchy of waste treatment in the UK.

Timescales for developing AD facilities vary widely, typically this in the region of three to five years from design to operational phase. Several influencing factors include;

  • the capacity of the plant - this will determine the type of planning consent required
  • Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Environmental Permitting arrangements
  • the need for any additional site / waste infrastructure
  • the ability to secure longer term waste supply contracts
  • public consultation

On this last point, the idea of food waste collections and waste treatment and disposal remains a highly emotive subject. An effective and transparent communication strategy is essential to minimise difficulties with the planning process.

EMC Business Solutions aims to assist businesses in the development of environmental quality management systems, providing a platform for regulatory compliance, sustainable business growth and increased profitability.

Find out more at

Source: EzineArticles
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