England’s New Food Waste Plan – Will it be Countrywide?

Written by Integrated Skills

Apr 5, 2024

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Domestic Food Waste

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Under the Government’s Simpler Recycling reforms, the UK is headed for a new era in food waste collection. Local Authorities have been tasked with arranging a food waste collection service by March 2025 for businesses, March 2026 for households and March 2027 for micro-firms.

The reforms sound like a positive step towards Net Zero, but there is substantial concern among Locals Authorities that funding gaps will put a stop to the changes before they even begin. The logistics of servicing England’s varied housing stock may also prove challenging.

Here we’ll be outlining the proposed changes (including why, on paper, the changes would be fantastic for the environment), while also examining the issues faced by Local Authorities in implementing the Government’s plans.

Food Waste Integrated Skills

Why is Food Waste Top of the Agenda?

According to the most recent research by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), UK households currently produce around 6.4 million tonnes of food waste per year. They put it into perspective beautifully:

“If food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter after China and the USA.”

Obviously, the ideal situation would be to simply reduce the amount of food wasted, but until that issue can be tackled significantly, the collection and proper treatment of food waste is imperative.

Back in 2020, DEFRA ran a consultation into the effect of kerbside food waste collection. They found that “if all local authorities provided kerbside food waste collection, the amount of food waste collected would increase by 1.35 million tonnes by 2029 – reducing greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 1.25 million tonnes per year.”

The Government has committed to reducing food waste by 50% by 2030 (against a 2015 baseline) in line with the UN’s sustainable development goals.

The Funding Challenge

So, we know why it’s important. But how can Local Authorities make this happen during a time of over-stretched budgets? The District Councils’ Network (DCN) have identified an average budget deficit of £210,000 per district council.

As detailed by Let’s Recycle, the funding gap will mean that councils will struggle to acquire the vehicles and containers required to enact the new collections. This expected shortfall doesn’t take into account the funding required to expand depots, as the Government has indicated that they will not be funding these requirements.

Local authorities are right to be concerned, and surprised, as the expectation has always been that Government will cover the “reasonable costs of new burdens”, which certainly doesn’t seem to be the case here.

Cllr Sarah Nelmes (environment spokesperson of the DCN) summarised the funding issues:

“The Government’s Simpler Recycling plan will mean significant service changes at many councils. New waste lorries, bins and, in some cases, larger depots will be required, all at great expense. The funding currently on offer is nowhere near enough…”

Compost Integrated Skills

The Logistical Challenges

The Government’s Simpler Recycling press release states that the reforms “will apply to all homes in England, including flats. Similar measures will apply to non-household municipal premises, including businesses, hospitals, schools and universities.”

Regarding non-household premises, they stated that they will be “launching a four-week consultation on expanding the definition of non-household municipal premises – so that places of worship, prisons, charity shops and residential hostels could also be covered by the rules.”

Waste management is already tricky business when it comes to blocks of flats. The new food waste requirements will mean individual caddies and liners for residents to keep in their kitchens and a shared food waste store for them to empty their liners into throughout the week. The cost of these supplies will be extensive and ongoing. The scheme also requires a commitment from residents to change their habits and make almost daily trips down to a shared container.

Fife Council recently ran a 12-week food collection trial for high rise blocks in their area. Their objectives were to:

  • Maximise participation in food waste service
  • Learn about barriers and enablers
  • Trial communication materials
  • Gather insights for food waste service rollout across high and midrise properties

They added touch-free pedal bins to properties across Fife and provided residents with individual caddies. The main complaints received when they ran a survey were that the liners broke too easily, the caddies often smelled and that getting them down to the communal bin was challenging. They also found that participants struggled to get hold of caddy liners in the local shops.

The positives reported, were that refuse bins needed emptying less and stayed cleaner. Residents also reported that the refuse chutes in the building were cleaner and less smelly too.

Fife Council found that participation was closely linked to outreach, with food waste weight peaking during weeks where residents were contacted or engaged in some way. This shows the level of commitment (and funding) needed for local authorities to encourage engagements in their communities.

Food scraps Integrated Skills

The Effect on Local Authorities

The food waste services now required will create an entirely new waste stream for many Local Authorities. This will mean changes throughout the waste management plan; from new vehicles to household starter kit distribution, to public engagement and upgraded depots.

One of Integrated Skills’ clients, Guernsey Waste, recently presented at the National Food Waste Conference in London. Their presentation really drove home the level of change required for them when they began their food waste collections in 2018. The necessary changes will be similar for most Local Authorities across the country.

Guernsey is a genuine success story for the implementation of food waste collection. Their key areas of consideration included:

  • Infrastructure (waste transfer station, removal of non-organic material, pumpable liquid sent for anaerobic digestion)
  • Collections (parishes and contractors, weekly collection, different sizes and constraints, charges for residual, communal arrangements)
  • Equipment (starter kits for households, use of liners, distribution network)
  • Public Engagement (drop-ins, leaflets, social media, office resources)

Their approach saw a 92%-95% participation rate by 2020, resulting in the collection of 3349 tonnes of household food waste and 1534 tonnes of commercial food waste in 2022. That’s a 33.6% increase in collections since 2019.

Guernsey’s advice for success?

  • Know your starting position & measure your success
  • Communication with all key stakeholders
  • Get feedback early on & act upon it
  • Ensure you plan enough time to engage and roll out service
  • Determine possible incentives

That informed starting position and continuous measurement of success is where Integrated Skills can help. It was a pleasure to work with Guernsey for their plans and to continue to support them in their great efforts.

It remains to be seen how England’s Local Authorities will rise to this challenge. We feel that the issue of funding will be a genuine barrier to success, and we hope to see the Government acknowledge their responsibility to work with current pricing data and to meet their obligations in funding new burdens.

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