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Food waste

Closing the food waste loop co-operatively

After almost a year of negotiations, Midcounties Co-operative Society is preparing to announce that the energy it uses comes, at least in part, from its own food waste. Marie-Claire Kidd reports.

Marie-Claire Kidd Freelance writer


HE MIDCOUNTIES Co-operative Society’s food waste loop is being closed thanks to a partnership between the Society, Co-operative Energy, which it owns and waste management

specialist, Biffa. All food waste from Midcounties stores -

about 800 tonnes a year - is already processed anaerobically at Biffa’s Poplars site in Cannock, Staffordshire. The methane produced is harnessed by Biffa and sold to suppliers. Some of this energy will soon be sold to Co-operative Energy, which provides energy for the stores. Tom Hoines, partnership manager at

Co-operative Energy, says: “Closing the loop is important to us. This new deal means the Society reduces the amount of energy it uses and gets a share of the profits of selling the energy. “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t do

this for other companies,” he adds. “It just makes sense.” One of the companies it will be approaching

is the Co-operative Group, which like Midcounties and Co-operative Energy, abides by the co-operative principle ‘co-operation among co-operatives’. Biffa’s new contract with the Co-operative

means co-op stores are now able to divert all their food waste from landfill. The group, which has one of the largest and most diverse food retail estates in the UK, will divert over

34,000 tonnes of waste per year through the new backhaul scheme as a whole.

Some 64% of this will be food waste, most

of which will be processed by Biffa at Poplars. Biffa manages waste contracts for many of

the UK’s biggest retail co-operative societies, including Midcounties, the Co-operative Group, Anglia, East of England, Heart of England and Scotmid. “We’d like to work with Co-operative Energy on other contracts,” says Tom Seward of Biffa, their account director for Midcounties and the Co-operative Group. “It’s a big opportunity for both of us. It’s

a viable option, but because of tie-ins with current contracts, it’s a number of years away.”

Producing results Thanks to anaerobic digestion and compulsory recycling bins at all its sites, including offices, Midcounties is already seeing results in terms of waste reduction. One of its supermarkets achieved a 99%

recycling rate in 2012, an improvement of over 40% on the previous year. The Grove store cut its bin size from a skip

to a domestic waste bin, and has been recycling at 100% for five out of the last six months. Store manager John Russell, said: “Our

success is down to getting all the colleagues bought into the programme and to challenge what needs to go into general waste.” Midlands Co-operative Society, which

works with BiogenGreenfinch on anaerobic digestion, is also ahead of the curve. In June 2011 its foodstores stopped sending

food waste and packaging to landfill, and in November 2011 its distribution centres followed suit. The project started with a trial supported by

a dedicated team who briefed stores, provided documentation and signage and offered regular support and guidance. In April 2010 the society trialled its total

food waste solution in its Corby, Kettering, Oundle, Oakham, Moulton and Raunds branches, using BiogenGreenfinch’s industrial anaerobic digestion plant in Northamptonshire. It rolled the scheme out to all its 172 foodstores in June 2011. From May 2010

6 September 19 2013

through to July 2011, the Society diverted 740 tonnes of food waste from landfill. Now that Midlands Co-operative Society’s

foodstores are zero waste to landfill, its focus has shifted to moving up the waste hierarchy. East of England Co-operative is also

introducing anaerobic digestion to its 135 foodstores, and it is looking for different ways to close the loop on food waste. Energy manager Glyn Lee says: “Our food waste will help provide the fertiliser to grow new food crops, which could potentially be sold in our food stores and by other local outlets.”

Following suit Following a successful pilot, the society is rolling anaerobic digestion across the remainder of the estate. The first 26 stores were phased into the scheme in June and the rest will follow this year. Food waste from East of England is being

treated by Adnams Bio Energy at its new plant in Suffolk. “We’ve established that we have no high

risk foods,” says Lee. “Our animal by-products are all category 3. The plant we’re using can accept all our waste as its processes are approved to pasteurise incoming materials. “The waste is de-packaged at the AD plant

so our team members can get on with taking care of the store.” Initial funding for anaerobic digestion came

from the society, but Lee says it will get its money back and more. “Our pilot study indicated we should save

approximately £70,000 in the first full year of operation, which is over 15% of our annual waste disposal costs,” he predicts. “That’s far in excess of the funding for the project. We hope to exceed the £70,000 target, but we remain early in the project. “We’ve investigated grant funding, but most

of this is not directed at the kind of waste management we are undertaking. Also, the project stands on its own feet in terms of both financial and environmental credibility.” Paul Monaghan, head of the social goals

department at Co-operatives UK, the national trade body for co-operatives, says: “The cost of

www. r e c y c l i n gwa s t ewo r l d . c o . u k

running a business has rocketed over the last two decades. Gate fees at landfill sites have shot up from £18 to £76 per tonne. “Those who use resources efficiently

will have a competitive advantage. Twenty years ago, even 10 years ago, it was near impossible for a business manager to secure a decent sum of capital for energy efficiency or waste recycling. Investment appraisal, be it pay back period or internal rate of return, worked against you given the cost of buying energy or disposing of waste was so low. It was rare to even see systematic investment in energy and water meters,” explains Monaghan. “That all changed after 2007 when a

series of price shocks changed the game fundamentally. Suddenly the numbers were on the side of environmental investment and the taps opened.”

Realising savings “An increasing number of businesses are responding to this new reality in a strategic way. The Co-operative Group is now realising projected savings of £65m per annum as a result of investments in energy efficiency and waste minimisation and recycling.” Biffa’s Tom Seward says: “Co-operatives are

ahead in waste minimisation and recycling. Lots of retailers make bold claims, but the Co-operative Group are actually doing what they are saying they’ll do. Where they’re doing it right is with a full ethical background and by ensuring it’s commercially viable “Longer term we’ll be looking at additional

waste streams within the backhaul model and trying to avoid anything going to landfill. “We’ll be using the waste minimisation

hierarchy and looking at closed loop options as part of the circular economy. There are lots of ideas. We’re sharing best practice between all of the co-operative customers we work with. There’s a lot of co-operation. “Biffa has been embracing co-operative

principles,” adds. Seward. “We’re having open conversations, and open book, and we’re facilitating co-operatives working with co-operatives. All partners are benefitting.” RWW

Recycling & WA S T E W O R L D

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