Why shouldn’t food go in the general waste bin? What happens to food that gets recycled? In celebration of national Recycle Week 2021, we share the answers to common questions about food recycling…
What is national Recycle Week?
Now in its 18th year, this annual celebration aims to raise awareness around the environmental benefits of recycling and galvanise the public into recycling more of the right things, more often. This year it will run from 20th-26th September.
How well is Oxfordshire doing in terms of recycling?
Oxfordshire has the highest recycling and composting rate in the country, with almost 60% of household waste getting recycled or composted (1).
How about food waste recycling?
Where Oxfordshire is doing slightly less well is when it comes to the recycling of food waste. Only half of the food waste produced at home is put into a green food caddy to be recycled, with the other half still being mixed in with general rubbish. (2)
Why recycle food waste?
General waste in Oxfordshire is sent to the Ardley Energy Recovery Facility (ERF), where non-recyclable materials are burned to generate electricity. Mixing food in with general waste is problematic as food waste contains a lot of water, so when it is burned, it slows down the process significantly and wastes a lot of energy.
In many other counties, general waste is sent to landfill. If food waste goes to landfill, it is often compacted under other waste, meaning that it breaks down in anaerobic way (i.e. without oxygen). As a result it produces a large amount of methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas that contributes to the climate crisis.
How is food recycled in Oxfordshire?
In Oxfordshire, food that goes into a green recycling caddy is recycled in 1 of 2 ways (2):
Composting: some food waste is sent to an in-vessel composter, where it is turned into compost which is then used by farms.
Electricity generation: the rest of Oxfordshire’s food waste goes to 1 of 2 anaerobic digestion (AD) plants. The food is broken down by bacteria, which produces methane. This is captured and burnt to generate electricity which is fed into the national grid. This is a more energy-efficient process than burning it alongside general waste or sending it to landfill. The broken down food waste is then used as a fertiliser on local farms.
So how many banana peels does it take to charge a mobile phone?
- Recycling 1 banana peel generates enough energy to charge a mobile phone – twice!
- 32 banana peels can power a typical family home for an hour.
- 22 tea bags can power a hoover for 10 minutes.
- 6 tea bags can boil a kettle. (4,5)
See food waste recycling in action:
What else can we do to reduce the impact of food waste?
While recycling food waste is much better for the climate and wider environment than burning it with other waste or sending it to landfill, it still produces greenhouse gas emissions – so what other actions can we take to reduce our impact?
Compost food waste at home
Making compost is an environmentally-friendly way of dealing with food and garden waste. Composting is an inexpensive and natural process that transforms kitchen and garden waste into a valuable and nutrient rich soil improver which can be used on garden beds and pot plants. Check out our home composting guide to find out how to get started.
Reduce food waste
The best way to deal with food waste is, of course, to produce less in the first place! 70% of the UK’s food waste is produced at home, which is more than waste from supermarkets, restaurants and manufacturers put together. What’s more, almost 70% of the food we waste is edible. (6)
While some waste in inevitable, most can be avoided with a bit of planning. Here are our top tips for making more of your food.