15 million wasted school dinners could become biogas, says ReFood

Around 15 million school dinners have been discarded following new lockdown restrictions in the UK.

Primary and secondary schools have closed across the UK in the nation’s third lockdown. With perishable meal items and ingredients ordered weeks in advance, schools across the UK have had no choice but to discard tonnes of perfectly edible food.

Unfortunately in these cases, much of this food ends up in landfill, according to food waste recycler ReFood, which described the situation as a ‘travesty’.

When food is left to rot in landfill, it generates greenhouse gases (GHGs) that are 21 times more damaging than CO2. So, not only is the food being wasted, but it is also contributing to climate change.

In these unpredictable times, particularly for the food and hospitality sector, the UK must manage unexpected food waste using principles for the food waste hierarchy. This will ensure that the nation makes the most of resources wherever possible and minimises the volume unnecessarily sent to landfill.

ReFood currently operates three food waste recycling facilities across the UK. Each year, it collects and recycles more than 400,000 tonnes of food waste. Aside from minimising waste and helping to protect the environment, ReFood has also shown that recycling can be up to 50% cheaper than landfill disposal methods.

In a statement, ReFood said: “Diverting unwanted food to those in need should always be the first priority. Working closely with food distribution charities would redirect edible food to feed hungry people. With the fraction of food that is unfit for human consumption, but still has nutritional value, we should use it as animal food. This is yet another way that we can extract value from discarded food and keep the food supply chain circular.

“But, what about produce that is unfit for either human or animal consumption? This is where food waste recycling steps in. There is no need to landfill food; it is a highly valuable resource that can be used to create renewable energy and sustainable fertiliser through the anaerobic digestion (AD) process.

“While the loss of 15 million school dinners is incredibly frustrating, it is, unfortunately, just a small fraction of the UK’s annual 10-million tonne food waste mountain. It is something we must address collectively, maximising the value of our resources to create a more sustainable nation and society.”

The company is calling on both the public and private sectors to help fight food waste – including schools – by using the wood waste hierarchy rather than relying on general waste management methods.

“While we are encouraged by the shift in public attitude and awareness around food waste, introducing food waste collections across the UK needs to be a priority – particularly in hospitality locations, like school cafeterias,” said ReFood.

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