The Great British food fight

The Great British food fight

Philip Simpson explores what the EU’s controversial landfill abolishment ambitions mean for the FMCG sector


With the recent upset over increased landfill tax charges, along with the EU’s ambition to abolish landfill altogether, the waste management of consumers and businesses alike have once again come into sharp focus. But what exactly does this mean for the FMCG sector? Philip Simpson, commercial director at the food waste recycler, PDM, explains.

As a nation, we produce 11-17million tonnes of food waste, with more than five million tonnes produced by food manufacturers alone. While there are successful measures in place to ensure maximum uptake of paper, plastic and electrical recycling, food waste is often labelled as the trickier material to handle.

Bottom line is that allowing food waste to rot in landfill not only raises significant environmental issues, with half a tonne of C02 generated by every tonne of food waste, it’s a costly process in the long term for businesses.

More action is being taken across the industry with various initiatives introduced aimed at tackling food waste across the total food supply chain. The recent Food Waste Bill, which has won cross party support, calls for manufacturers and retailers by law, to donate their surplus food to charity under the premise that 50 per cent of edible, healthy food is currently wasted.  

Another long standing initiative is WRAP’s Courthauld Commitment which calls on the sector to cut all of its waste by nearly 20 per cent by the end of this year.


But it would seem that more industry sectors are now calling for a complete ban on food waste to landfill as the right measure to tackle this waste source.

A recent thinktank report called for a ban as a way to guarantee feedstock for renewable energy generation and this is a message we’re hearing more across the industry as people start to recognise food waste as an important resource; it can be used to generate heat and electricity via anaerobic digestion, compost or nutrient rich fertiliser.

A ban on food waste to landfill would bring the UK in line with other European countries who have already implemented such measures, including Scotland with its zero waste initiative. But when it comes to implementing measures of this level, it’s not about taking a hard edge approach and there are fundamental factors that still need to be completely explored for a ban to work and to ensure it would be the right solution for the FMCG and other sectors.

This is something being addressed through the Vision 2020 campaign which has brought together key stakeholders from the public and private sector to look at how we can stop food waste going to landfill and identify best practice.

A panel of industry experts from WRAP, Unilever, LARAC, CIWM, as well as PDM, chaired under Lord Deben, has been formed which aims to drive a successful transition to a ban on food waste to landfill – one that offers viable and commercial beneficial alternatives to landfill and involves everyone in the food supply chain.

Vision 2020 believes a ban should only follow at the end of a process which delivers cost effective infrastructure and keeps FMCG business drivers at the forefront, we need to take a phased approach to a ban.


As more focus is placed on food waste and its end destination – more FMCG companies are implementing effective food waste processes and by doing so are making significant environmental and financial savings.

With landfill taxes currently at £64 per tonne and set to rise until 2014, finding a sustainable alternative for food waste now will save companies thousands in the long run. And as mentioned earlier, the carbon savings are just as great, helping businesses to meet their CSR targets.

I appreciate that implementing food waste recycling in a commercial context can seem daunting and will have a significant impact on the day-to-day operations of a business. But in reality they are simple processes which can be delivered through a number of options and providers, each offering something slightly different.  

In terms of the recycling process itself, the UK offers a range of portfolios although a lot of focus is placed on anaerobic digestion (AD) which recycles food waste into renewable energy – at present, around 300,000 homes in the UK are powered through AD.

This is the preferred treatment option for the FMCG sector not only for its green credentials, but for its by-product – a nutrient-rich fertiliser – which can be used on farms to grow new crops offering a ‘closed loop’ approach for the FMCG industry.  

It’s also one of the best options to deal with commercial mixed food waste. However it doesn’t work as well with food with high fat content, so animal by-products for instance are much more suited to rendering which is able to extract the fat and protein for other uses.


The fact is that there are different solutions available for different kinds of waste and I think the government and industry need to be doing more to ensure people are aware of the all the cost effective alternatives to handle their specific waste, this will only encourage uptake and inevitably, divert this source from landfill.

As the industry continues to explore the future of food waste and the UK is brought in line with other European countries, the bottom line for companies to remember is that being sustainable has strong commercial benefits and enables them to demonstrate environmental commitments.”

Holly Aston