Brighton and Hove Council bite the bullet on food waste
Brighton is officially Britain’s greenest city with a Green council newly elected in May. Paradoxically, Lewes, which is arguably the greenest town in Britain, has just elected a Conservative council. One of the first announcements by Brighton has been a commitment to pilot a household food waste collection and to specify which technology they would like to see treating this waste. The answer to the latter is (surprise.. ) anaerobic digestion. This is good news for fans of biogas plants like us, but what will it mean in practice, and how hard will it be to deliver?
The backlash against the decision to stick to two-weekly collections (as opposed to weekly collections favoured by Eric Pickles) has been astonishing. Read the Comment is Free section of the Guardian website and you find commentators from all over the world asking why we in the UK seem to have so much difficulty in dealing with waste. Why do we? Brighton is not unique but as with all the seaside resorts in the South East, our seagulls have developed into skilled shredders of black bags. And being in the south we get 15% more sunlight than the rest of the UK so we are of course warmer, which means that food waste in summer smells, attracts rats, and looks awful for visitors and residents alike.
If B&H press ahead with weekly collections of food waste this could generate 7000 tonnes of the stuff a year. More than enough for a local biogas plant. Lewes District Council are also considering this option and believe they can collect 3,000 tonnes of food waste from 24,000 homes. 10,000 tonnes is not be sniffed at. What do we need to do to see this digested, turned into renewable energy for local use and benefitting both community and councils?
Like East Sussex County Council, Brighton and Hove are tied into a 25 year contract with Veolia for the disposal of waste. Along with Veolia, ESCC have long since chosen their preferred alternatives to landfill and (another surprise) these did not include anaerobic digestion. To be fair, town sized biogas plants of the scale that are ubiquitous in Germany were not viable in the UK till the advent of the Feed in Tariff (FiT)in 2010. But they are now. So what is the best that could happen? We strongly believe that a community scale AD plant could be built in Lewes to supply the town with heat and power, and another in Newhaven or near Brighton that could do the same. In fact, we have a model for doing exactly that and are trying to get all parties together to discuss it.
What is the alternative? There are still contentious plans for more landraise and landfill sites in East Sussex. It may be too late to stop more landfill, but the fact that both Brighton and Lewes councils are considering food waste collections and favour Anaerobic Digestion is great news for the sustainable future of our county.