Here at the University of Reading, we understand that dealing correctly with unwanted food is an essential aspect of our waste management strategy to minimise the amount generated and sent to landfill. The University operates all Catering Services in-house, for the benefit of staff and students. Already, the University has processes in place to divert food waste from our main dining locations on campus (such as Park Eat, The Dairy and The Square) away from landfill and into energy generation.
Current action to tackle food waste at the University
The University’s catering team is committed to reducing food waste by 50% by 2030 compared to 2018. This will be achieved through using technology to predict service levels, reusing leftover food where safe to do so, and cooking in smaller batches. Where we do have food waste, we will give as much away as possible (where permitted legally) with any remaining waste going to generate energy.
See https://www.hospitalityuor.co.uk/sustainability/food-policy/ for details of our Sustainable Food Policy and Framework.
Reducing waste at its source
The University has recognised that cooking in large batches and giving out over-sized portions in dining locations can generate a substantial amount of food waste. Therefore, a new scheme has been implemented at the University’s main dining locations in which food is cooked in smaller batches and then portion sizes are optimized upon request by diners. As a result, less food is wasted, which is not only more environmentally beneficial, but also reduces waste collection costs.
From food waste to renewable energy via Anaerobic Digestion
Our main dining locations collect food waste separately from general waste, in special bins that are then emptied by our waste contractor. The food waste is taken to a special treatment facility, where it is converted into electricity and liquid fertiliser via a process called Anaerobic Digestion (AD). AD is a natural process where plant and animal materials are broken down by micro-organisms in the absence of air to produce biogas and nutrient-rich liquid, so effectively ‘digesting’ food waste. The biogas produced is then burnt in a large engine to generate electricity.
Sending food waste to AD prevents harmful methane gas being produced from the decomposition of the food in landfill, which would be released into the atmosphere. Another advantage of AD is that a much wider range of biodegradable waste, such as meat and other cooked produce, can be treated, compared to composting.
If you would like to find out more about the AD process, please follow this link: Anaerobic Digestion (www.selectenviro.co.uk)
What happens to other food waste across our campuses?
Any food waste that is generated in offices, kitchenettes and common rooms at the University is currently collected in bins with other non-recyclable general waste and taken to a treatment facility where it is incinerated to generate electricity. More details can be found at this link: Energy from Waste (www.selectenviro.co.uk)
The Sustainability Services team has investigated the practicalities of setting-up separate food waste collections in offices and other area across the University (including in kitchenettes and common rooms), however, there would need to be substantial additional resources put into this, but there would be no clear advantage over the current process. We would potentially have a similar final outcome in terms of generating electricity (and not sending it to landfill), but we would use additional resources and have extra costs:
1.) Use of additional resources
If the University did set-up food waste collections from offices, the food would need to be segregated into new internal food caddies and taken to separate external storage bins, and then extra collections would be required by our waste contractor (meaning more lorry movements) alongside the on-going collections for general waste.
2.) Higher costs for minor additional impact
Setting up a separate food waste collection would incur substantial costs in purchasing new internal caddies, using additional bags within the caddies, renting external wheelie bins, and having extra collections undertaken by our waste contractor.
We need to ensure that we do the right thing from a holistic environmental perspective, and not just do things that appear to be good to do. Therefore, we are conscious that we have to understand the overall environmental impact of our decisions and try to minimise unintended environmental consequences. The University already has a successful treatment route for general waste (including food waste from offices) where less than 2% of all waste goes to landfill, and where almost all non-recyclable waste ends up being used as a fuel to generate electricity.
The need for continual improvement and up-coming changes to legislation means that the University will continue to review the ways in which food waste is segregated and collected across our campuses.
The University’s Sustainability Services team always welcomes questions, comments and suggestions about improvements we can make to waste management on site. If you want to get in touch about waste management, please contact the team via firstname.lastname@example.org
Food waste caddy