Is England’s care sector ready to comply with the new food waste laws?
The UK Environment Bill – now the Environment Act – was passed back in November last year and is changing how care homes in England are able to deal with their food waste.
At present, many care homes either combine their food waste with general waste or it is macerated and digested, then disposed of to sewer. In 2023, however, this will no longer be compliant.
In a recent article with Tomorrow’s Care, Huw Crampton, sales manager at Tidy Planet, explores what this means for the sector in the run up to the new regulations coming into effect, and how sites can ensure they are compliant in time for the deadline.
If you missed it, catch the full write-up below:
What does the Environment Act mean for care homes in England?
While the Government has previously pledged to reduce food waste by 20% by 2025, the Act has further built upon this by committing to eliminating this material from landfill by 2030.
Therefore, from 2023, it will become mandatory in England for care homes that generate food waste as part of their daily routine, to present it separately for collection.
Fundamentally, this means three things. Firstly, food waste will need to be transported from a care home’s site as a clean, separate material stream – either for composting or gas generation. Secondly, it will no longer be allowed to be sent to sewer by maceration or digestion, and lastly, it can’t be mixed with general or other wastes.
This new approach to waste management and disposal will be a bigger shift for some sites than it is for others – especially if there is currently no segregation of waste streams in the care home’s kitchens, or food waste is currently disposed of to sewer by a digestion, waste-to-water system, or traditional macerator.
But as these practices will no longer be compliant within the new laws, the sector needs to start reviewing and planning for the future as soon as possible.
Geography and lack of local infrastructure also needs to be considered. Care facilities in more rural areas already know how challenging it can be to get wastes collected reliably, but now there is going to be an extra collection, bin, and supplier needed. Therefore, it is crucial to be looking into how far away the closest food waste processing site is, alongside how easy and cost-effective it is going to be to get it collected.
The good news is that it is possible to implement solutions that align with these new measures, and that not only reap environmental benefits, but also generate improved business value.
For instance, there are hospitals in Scotland – under the NHS Grampian board – that have been doing this for years, whose ‘tried-and-tested’ successes can be shared and replicated in other care homes and hospitals alike.
What solutions are available for care homes to comply with the new food waste law?
Given care homes in England will have to separate their food waste stream and are no longer allowed send this material to sewer, landfill, or be incinerated, they can either use specialist drying or dewatering equipment to help them reduce the volume they send off site, or they can use a composting system to recycle it on site.
By implementing new, compliant processes, this not only helps care homes to reap the environmental and legislative benefits but the ethical, and financial advantages too – reducing off-site disposal costs and transport-related carbon emissions.
Each care facility will naturally have its own requirements when it comes to the most suitable solution for the management and disposal of its food waste, and that is why it is important for the teams making the decisions to know the difference between the options available.
Food waste dewatering for care homes
Taking dewatering machinery as a first example – and one which has been implemented by the likes of NHS Grampian in Scotland – this process works by first shredding the food waste and separating the liquids from the solids.
This procedure helps sites reduce the volume of their organic waste by up to 80% and its weight by 50%. As a result, this means that care facilities can benefit from significantly lowering their off-site collection and disposal costs – helping to protect already stretched budgets and resources.
Food waste, by its very nature, contains high levels of moisture, and this means that it is extremely heavy, which can quickly inflate third-party collection and disposal fees.
Under the new laws, it will be permitted to dry or dewater the waste before collection and thankfully – unlike disposers and digesters – drying and dewatering systems will be allowed to be used.
Choosing this method would ensure compliance and help to decrease the amount of food waste being collected.
Food waste drying for care homes
Alternatively, food waste drying equipment heats, agitates, and shreds food waste to convert it into a dried granular material.
This can reduce the volume and weight of waste by up to 90%, meaning the same bottom-line saving advantages seen with dewatering are also applicable with food waste drying machines.
The drying process creates a stabilised and odourless resource that is not only easier and safer to store for long periods, without putrefying, but it can also then be fed into an in-vessel composter.
This type of machinery can also accept compostable tableware – processing everything into a dry powder and leaving the plastics to be easily separated.
As well as ensuring compliance, the reduction in mass and volume significantly decreases food waste collection fees – saving money, lowering carbon emissions, and forming a closed loop solution. The dried product can also be used as a valuable biomass fuel, or it can be composted.
Food waste composting for care homes
Finally, on-site food waste composting is also another way care homes can recycle their food waste, comply with the new law, and eliminate costly waste collection fees.
This process works by placing the food and organic waste into the composter’s hopper, alongside a balanced addition of woody carbon. The machine’s internal blades mix and aerate the material inside an enclosed and warm environment, and this, coupled with controlled air flow, is a perfect place for healthy composting to thrive.
The subsequent nutritious compost resource can be used on site in gardens or cultivation plots to grow plants or fresh produce – creating a closed loop waste management model.
Care homes can also increase their overall capacity and throughput by first processing the food waste via dewatering or drying equipment.
What is the future of food waste in the care home sector?
In terms of what’s next, 2023 will be when the new laws commence in England, so it is vital that care organisations know the changes are coming and how to prepare for them.
This will not only contribute to achieving the Government’s sustainability goals, but it supports waste minimisation, moves food waste higher up the waste hierarchy, and saves on off-site disposal costs – paving the way for a greener, more cost-effective future. And that is most definitely some valuable food for thought.