Government Publishes UK Anaerobic Digestion strategy and action plan
Buried inside this surprisingly readable document of 148 (numbered) and distinct paragraphs – what comedian Les Dawson might call non-secateurs – is this gem, which few appear to have noticed:
"However, Article 4(2) makes provision for specified waste streams to differ from the waste hierarchy, where justified by positive life-cycle assessment analysis. For certain organic waste, such as food waste, the use of AD to treat the waste is considered to be a better overall environmental outcome than recycling such waste, taking into account the local economic and environmental considerations. Under certain circumstances waste from households used in AD can count towards recycling targets set in the rWFD plan."
The rWFD plan is the revised Waste Framework Directive where Recycling, up 'til now, explicitly excludes ‘energy recovery and the reprocessing into materials that are to be used as fuels’. Such as, for example, Anaerobic Digestion.
If food waste treated by AD can now count towards recycling targets this should have anyone interested in turning brown stuff into biogas (like us) quietly whooping.
This is because councils that were considering food waste collections 2 years ago have almost universally abandoned them (due to cost). Now they can think again. About 50% of all black bag waste is anaerobically digestable (if you include paper and cardboard). Recycling credits are worth around £28.80/tonne. For a town of 30,000 homes (Hastings) with each household producing on average half a tonne of waste a year (15,000 tonnes) that would save an annual £216,000 (7,500 tonnes x £28.80 ). This is hypothetical of course but if only half the food waste is taken out of black bag waste it is a significant amount. What’s more it removes the main attraction for seagulls shredding bags and scattering rubbish over the streets. And, if you take away the food, everything else in the black bag is that much easier to recycle. So hitting a 50% recycling target is easier. Not hitting the target and continuing to send food waste to landfill on the other hand will be very expensive. So community owned biogas plants that turn this waste into renewable energy for local use should have councillors jumping up and down and local planners scanning their land registries for suitable sites… you would think.
So it sounds too good to be true. But is it true? Here it is again later in the document. Clear as, um… liquid digestate:
"The target set by Article 11(2)(a) of the rWFD16 to recycle 50% of waste from households by 2020. As to what counts towards this target, the two main factors are the definition of ‘recycling’ in Article 3(17) of the rWFD and the target compliance rules to be adopted under Article 11(3) of the rWFD. The target compliance rules have not yet been adopted. However, the indications are that the input to AD of biodegradable waste from households may be counted as recycled for the purposes of demonstrating compliance with the target where the treatment results in digestate which meets end-of-waste status. Pending the adoption of EU level end-of-waste criteria for digestate under Articles 6(1) and (2) of the rWFD, this would mean compliance with the national end-of-waste criteria set out ‘End-of-waste criteria for the production and use of quality outputs from AD of source-segregated biodegradable waste’."
It always seemed odd that composting counted as recycling but sending food and garden waste to anaerobic digestion did not. Especially when you realise that you recover energy from AD (whereas composting uses energy), and at the same time you get almost as much fertiliser as the food waste you put in. And in KNP terms (Potassium, Nitrogen, Phosphate) it's excellent stuff. Which is why, although compliance is not a foregone conclusion, here at Positive Energy, we are quietly excited and biting our knuckles. Here’s hoping Avaaz pick this one up and get everyone equally excited about “end-of-waste criteria for the production and use of quality outputs from AD of source-segregated biodegradable waste”.