FOOD AND hospitality companies in Scotland should not be afraid of new laws requiring them to separate their food waste. Footprint reports from the Food Waste 2013 conference in Edinburgh.
In just over 12 weeks new laws come into force that will require many food businesses in Scotland to separate their food waste. Some have already referred to the Waste (Scotland) Regulations as bigger than landfill tax and statutory recycling targets. The environment secretary, Richard Lochhead, has even been named Resource Revolutionary of the Year for his role in a policy intended to deliver a “zero-waste Scotland”.
But what do the regulations mean for small food businesses? Will there be collections available at a decent price point? Will there be space for the different bins required?
And will there be extenuating circumstances for those unable to comply? These were all questions covered at Food Waste 2013 in Edinburgh this summer.
Sensible. Pragmatic. Realistic. These are not often words associated with regulators, but this is how the Scottish Environment Protection Agency wants to approach the laws. “We know we won’t have full compliance by January 1st. We’ll be looking to businesses to help them find sensible solutions”, said Adrian Bond, the agency’s national operations waste unit manager.
Bond’s team will focus on big producers first. The likes of McDonald’s and KFC have been told to start with restaurants with the highest footfalls. Smaller businesses will have help to overcome some headaches such as lack of space. However, that won’t be an excuse for non-compliance, said Bond, as he was quizzed about the rigour with which his team would police the regulations. The volume of waste small businesses have “isn’t going to change – in fact, when they see it separated, it should go down”. According to the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA), the average restaurant creates more than 400kg of food waste a week. Frank Stubbs of Zero Waste Scotland stressed that, with food waste costing £1.80 a kilo in purchase and disposal costs alone, this is a chance for businesses to cut a “massive overhead”.
Collecting the waste won’t be easy – and has often proved uneconomical (see Footprint, May 2013, available online). The regulations should change matters. Jamie Pitcairn, the Ricardo-AEA Scotland director, explained that there is overcapacity in Scotland’s central belt, deflating prices at food waste treatment sites.
“That’s not a problem for now as the operators are waiting for the regulations to kick in,” he said. “This should then drive a change in the economics and dynamics of food waste collections.” However, it won’t all be easy pickings. “For those collecting from hospitality businesses, seasonality could be an issue. They’ll have more guests in the summer and therefore more food waste, so what happens in the winter?”
Bond admitted there is a gulf in the performance of waste contractors when it comes to communicating the changes to their customers. “Some are providing excellent information to their clients, but some large waste contractors appear to be completely ignorant about what is coming their way.”
He warned food businesses not to be tempted by companies offering single-bin collections. One of the areas that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency will be watching very closely is the arrival of smaller players trying to undercut legitimate waste companies by offering cheap, single- bin services. Bond explained: “That will be a concern, and we’re working to regulate that.”
David Burrows, Footprint's editor in chief, chaired Food Waste 2013.