Food waste and climate change: The unavoidable link
If we’re serious about climate change then we all need to stop wasting food.
After the national greenhouse gas emissions of China and the US, global food waste is the next biggest single factor when it comes to the world’s carbon footprint, making up 6-8% of the global total.
A staggering one-third of all greenhouse emissions globally come from the agricultural sector, and a third of all the food the UK purchases ends up wasted. That’s 1.8 billion tonnes of it every year. In the US alone, producing food that’s subsequently wasted generates the equivalent of 32.6million cars’ worth of annual greenhouse gas emissions.
The developed world is the main culprit when it comes to food waste. As the world population grows, with more people wanting to access the kind of lifestyles enjoyed in high-income countries, the upward pressure on food waste is likely to increase. In the last few years over 75% of District, County, Single-Tier Councils and Combined Authorities have declared a climate emergency. To tackle this ongoing effect on the environment, the UN has also put in place a goal to halve food waste by 2030.
Why is food waste such an issue? The Methane Problem
While it might be tempting to think that most of our food waste is organic and will quickly decompose back into the soil, that’s not the case. If you compost your peelings, apple cores and eggshells and then use them in your garden then that’s positive. However, this is only a fraction of the overall food waste that’s generated.
In the UK we discard around a million tonnes of potatoes, bread and milk. This either ends up going down the sink or into landfills, which are slowly filling up with food. This can take a considerable time to decompose completely. Waste in landfills also creates other problems, not least methane, a greenhouse gas. Organic materials such as food scraps are broken down by bacteria which produces methane. As a greenhouse gas, methane is more potent than carbon dioxide. In fact, it has a global warming potential of 21 times that of carbon dioxide, which means the link between food waste and climate change cannot be ignored.
If we’re serious about tackling climate change then reducing methane has to be a key part of the process and saving food waste will be a key part of that agenda.
What else can we do with food waste to protect the environment?
Most importantly, reducing food waste at both production and distribution points should be addressed. Implementing best practices in the hospitality, education and commercial sectors will help, but the correct disposal of food that has made its way through to waste should be a priority.
The most sustainable way of recycling food waste is through the process of anaerobic digestion. Anaerobic digestion is a sustainable process of recycling large amounts of food and animal waste, which is backed by local, national and government regulated bodies. Anaerobic digestion is an environmentally friendly process of creating a renewable form of energy from waste. It works through a complex biological process that breaks down organic matter without the need for air in large, insulated and completely sealed vessels. Food waste enters the sealed vessel, where it’s then processed into a liquid porridge, which is then pumped into the anaerobic digestion plant. Bacteria feed on the food waste producing biogas, which is then captured and used as fuel in CHP engines or can be sent through a gas filter directly into the gas grid.
What remains is a digestate or biofertiliser, which is made safe through pasteurisation and is then stored, ready to be applied to farmland. It creates a high-nutrient fertiliser which replaces the need for fossil-fuel-derived fertilisers. Anaerobic digestion, therefore, helps to both capture and reduce carbon and energy usage.
The role of local councils
While households can all play their part, and Love Food Hate Waste is a great source of advice and inspiration when it comes to what we as individuals can do to bring down our collective carbon footprint, much of the work will need to be done at a structural level. By introducing anaerobic digestion to local authorities, large volumes of food waste can be appropriately disposed of.
What are the benefits of AD for local authorities?
- Sustainable: food waste recycling agreement.
- Environmental: reduced carbon footprint.
- Economical: cost-effective and increased revenue from reduced contamination rates.
There are many more benefits to be associated with partnering with an experienced waste recycling company. BioteCH4 is one of the leading AD operators in the UK and are at the forefront of tackling food waste in the UK. Across our six sites, we handle the collection and transportation of food waste, oils and fats recycling.