Research by WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) shows that in the UK we are throwing away one third of the food we buy, most of which could have been eaten. In effect, for every three bags of shopping we bring home, we put one straight into the bin.
According to WRAP, 6.7 million tonnes of wasted food goes to landfill in the UK every year, at a total cost of over £8 billion – that’s equal to £420 per year for the average family!
Sending food to landfill is not only wasteful and expensive, but also produces emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas which, molecule for molecule, traps 25 times more of the sun’s heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. When bacteria break down organic matter in the absence of oxygen they produce methane, so as waste is compressed in landfill sites the organic materials decompose anaerobically, producing methane gas.
In 2007 methane accounted for 8 per cent of the UK’s total CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas emissions, and over 40% of this came from landfill sites. More than a third of the waste collected from UK homes is organic kitchen or garden waste.
So what are the alternatives?
Obviously we need to waste much less in the first place. Love Food Hate Waste has lots of ideas and advice on buying and using food more efficiently.
A few councils have now introduced Green Waste Recycling Schemes which provide a kerbside collection for garden waste and uncooked food waste such as vegetable peelings and tea bags. The materials are then processed into compost. This is an excellent solution, although you can’t dispose of any leftover meat, fish or cooked food waste this way.
If you have a garden, home composting is a good solution. This is really very easy – you don’t have to be an expert gardener. Garden waste and uncooked kitchen waste such as vegetable peelings, egg shells, tea bags and coffee grounds are ideal ingredients for making compost. With not much effort you could soon be producing your own home-made compost which will improve your soil and reduce the need for artificial fertilizers. It’s an easy, cheap and practical way to manage your waste and improve your garden too. For more information, see my page on composting. You can find details of which local councils supply reduced priced home composting bins at recyclenow. Or see the turning2green shop for a selection of composting bins.
The main problem in home composting of kitchen waste is how to deal with meat and fish, dairy products and leftover cooked food. If you mix this waste in with your ordinary compost it will smell and attract flies and rats, so it needs to be composted in a different way. There are several systems for doing this:
This is a two step system in which the waste is firstly fermented in airtight bins and then composted, so it works along with a normal composting system, turning leftover meat, fish, bread, etc into nutrient rich compost without creating smells or attracting flies or vermin. As the materials are collected they are sprinkled with a bran based material, Bokashi, which contains a culture of friendly micro organisms. When the Bokashi bin is full it is closed up and left for two weeks to ferment. Generally two containers are used so one can be left fermenting while the other is being filled. After fermentation the waste needs to be added to an ordinary compost bin or wormery or buried in the garden to complete the composting process. There is more information on using this system on my Bokashi page.
Worms are very effective and hygienic composters, and a wormery will compost most types of leftover food scraps, shredded newspapers, the contents of your vacuum cleaner, or garden weeds, producing especially rich compost and concentrated liquid fertiliser. There are various designs available – the easiest to use have several layers of trays which the worms move up through leaving compost ready for use in the lower trays (See a selection of wormeries at the turning2green shop. The Recycle Works sell wooden worm bins.
These are really good efficient systems, although the idea of dealing with worms doesn’t appeal to everyone. For more information see my page on Worm composting.
Food waste digesters
These will dispose of all food waste, cooked or uncooked, including meat, fish, bones, dairy products, peelings and fruit . There are two types of digestor, the Green Cone and the Green Johanna, and both use natural processes to break the food down without producing methane.
Green Cone – this small food digester needs to be installed in a sunny part of the garden as it uses solar heat to break down food waste into water, carbon dioxide, and just a small residue of solids. It isn’t suitable for garden waste, and doesn’t produce any compost. It’s easy to set up, very simple to use, and it will dispose of most food waste.
The Green Cone
is available through the turning2green shop or directly from Amazon. For more information see Green Cone Food-Waste Digester FAQs.
Green Johanna. This is a more expensive option, but in my view it’s the best of all. It’s a very simple, easy to use compost bin which will dispose of all waste food and garden waste too, and the unit is completely rodent proof. It needs to be installed in a shady part of the garden and is designed to be filled with two parts food waste mixed with one third garden waste, working by a ‘hot composting’ method which produces good rich compost. Available from mygreenerhome.co.uk – see also their page of Green Johanna FAQs.
Green Cone.com has a search facility to check if your local council is offering either the Green Cone or Green Johanna at subsidised prices.
To help decide which would be most appropriate for you, see Which Food Waste Digester, Green Cone or Green Johanna at YouTube.