Food waste disposal need not be a sloppy chore. Why not explore other options?
Separating household waste has become a daily task in our environmentally conscious age. But do you know how much waste we currently recycle, what happens to our household rubbish, or how we can divert food waste away from the interminable bins lining our streets and benefit the environment?
Each year in the UK we generate around 290 million tonnes of waste, which causes environmental damage and costs businesses and consumers money. The good news, however, is that more than 40 per cent of household waste was recycled in England in 2010/11, compared to 11 per cent in 2000/01. The amount of non-recycled waste per person is now at its lowest level since estimates were first made in 1983-4, most of it going to landfill.
Our dry recyclables, such as paper, card, tin cans, foil and glass go to be sorted for the recycle market. Meanwhile, the UK produced in 2009 approximately 8.3 million tonnes of food and drink waste per year, 7.0 million tonnes of which was food. Our food waste is a priority for recycling. Buried in landfill food scraps release vast amounts of the damaging greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere and we lose valuable soil nutrients. Capturing the gas it can be treated to produce renewable energy for heating, lighting and powering vehicles. While the vital soil nutrients, such as phosphates, can be re-used as organic fertilisers.
To prevent landfilling food and to stop our leftovers from spoiling other recyclables local councils have to rely on us to separate our food waste and unless we compost at home, they must pick it up separately (and frequently) and pay to send it for treatment. Even though the recovery of “eco” value varies, processing methods such as incineration, in-vessel composting, or anaerobic digestion, all carry a cost at a time of when local authority budgets are shrinking.
The government is hoping that more local councils may, in future, provide householders with a food caddy to separate our food waste. The caddy is designed to be stored in your kitchen. You put all your leftovers into the container then, once full, empty it into your green bin for collection. Whilst fairly messy and smelly, food caddies can reduce litter from split bags.
However, most food waste need never see a dustbin or a container. For decades, homes in Sweden, North America, Australia, New Zealand and many other countries have found a far more hygienic, affordable and environmentally friendly way of dealing with food leftovers, without a bin bag crossing the kitchen threshold.
The food waste disposer fits under your sink and grinds food waste to minute particles that flow easily through the sewer system to waste water treatment and increasingly anaerobic digestion. Here both energy and fertiliser are usually extracted. And no need to store decomposing waste in the kitchen.
Just 6 per cent of UK homes currently use a food waste disposer, yet they represents an important tool in the battle to avoid landfill, especially in densely populated urban areas or where people can’t or won’t separate their food waste.
They also represent a great help for local councils. If rubbish collections are disrupted for any reason it is food waste that causes most problems. It smells, attracts vermin, putrefies and contaminates any other waste it touches. Each tonne of food waste diverted from landfill via a disposer can save the planet one tonne of harmful CO2e emissions.
Which items of food waste can a disposer take? Practically everything resulting from food preparation, plus meal remnants. Exceptions might be very large bones and woody stems. The grinding mechanism has no knives or blades so is safe for children and complies with EU safety standards.
A domestic food waste disposer, which lasts for about 12 years and is 95 per cent recyclable, uses minimal electricity and water: around 2-3 kWh of electricity per household per year. At current electricity prices this is a cost of about 37p a year. Daily water usage is around six litres per day - just about one extra toilet flush per household.
Dos and Don'ts
These eco-friendly tips and suggestions maximise the environmental performance of a domestic food waste disposer:
- Over-buy. Preventing food waste is best of all.
- Pour oils and grease down the drain. They can clog and damage the sewer system. Instead, collect fat in a container and then throw the container into the dustbin.
- Use cold water when grinding food waste. Using hot water wastes energy
- Save and grind used lemons and other citrus fruit peels to freshen up and disinfect the disposer naturally.
AMDEA’s website www.food-waste-disposer.org.uk explains the basics of how these appliances work. It is packed with facts, drawn from experience of decades of usage worldwide.