Watch your waste

Philip Simpson looks at the benefits that sustainable food waste recycling can offer schools

According to the latest statistics from WRAP, schools in England generate 80,382 tonnes of food waste every year. Of this, 79% (63,099 tonnes) is said to be avoidable. This figure accounts for nearly 15% of the country’s entire commercial food waste figure – the bulk of which goes straight to landfill.

Such levels of waste cost schools and colleges around £250m per year, which equates to 22p for every meal served. Interestingly, WRAP found that food waste is statistically significantly different by school type, with primary schools producing 72 grams per pupil per day and secondary schools 42 grams per day. If this waste was recycled instead, the education sector could almost eliminate these costs.

It is clear from WRAP’s research that food waste is a significant issue in schools at a time when budget constraints are a real challenge and finding a solution to this problem has the potential to deliver significant financial savings – as well as demonstrating a lead in sustainability.

However, it’s not just about dealing with the waste more effectively. First, schools need to address the root cause of the matter. Why is this level of avoidable food waste being produced?

Reasons for high levels of food waste were cited as the absence of operational systems to stop over-ordering, limited options for re-using unserved food, unpopular meal options and rushed meal times. By separating out food waste it will be possible to see the amount being generated from each source and to then take steps to put into place changes to minimise wastage, such as menu alterations and adjustments to ordering processes.

While cost saving should be a key driver for the education sector to cut food waste, there’s also corporate social responsibility to consider. Food waste is a growing concern for consumers, and if pressure is not already being put on individual schools to cut waste by pupils, parents and the wider public, it may only be a matter of time.

ReFood wants to see zero food waste going to landfill and would like to think that the government will make the commitment to set this as legislation in the not-too-distant future.

ReFood turns all types of food into renewable resources via anaerobic digestion. This process harnesses the natural degradation of food by capturing the biogas produced and using it to generate heat and renewable energy – both electricity and gas – which are sent directly to the grid.

Importantly, the ReFood service makes waste management simple, replacing full bins with sanitised ones after every collection. These clean bins can be used directly in kitchen areas so food waste can be separated as it is produced.

By providing a dedicated food waste collection and recycling service, ReFood can help the education sector save as much as 46% on waste costs by diverting food from landfill. In addition, ReFood produces enough renewable energy from waste to power 25,000 homes nationwide.

Considering 79% of the food waste schools generate is avoidable and that this figure accounts for 15% of the country’s entire commercial food waste figure, it is evident there is a real demand for the sector to put food waste recycling into practice, both from a cost and CSR perspective. Through making small changes, the sector can reap significant results. 

Philip Simpson is commercial director of ReFood W: