Grant Keenan: Recycle food waste or face fines

Companies and organisations now face hefty fines from the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency if they don't recycle their leftover food.
Companies and organisations now face hefty fines from the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency if they don't recycle their leftover food.
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IT’S a sight that’s all too familiar – waking up on the morning after a Hogmanay house party and being faced with half-eaten cakes, mountains of crisps that have gone soft and takeaway pizzas poking out of their boxes.

As you start to tackle the food waste lying all over your kitchen and living room, you begin to regret buying so many sweet and savoury treats for your guests.

From the start of this month, businesses producing, handling or selling food in Scotland could face an even more painful hangover. New laws mean any company or organisation producing more than 5kg of food waste each week will have to separate out those scraps and out-of-date items and recycle them instead of dumping them in their wheelie bin to be sent to landfill. The previous threshold was 50kg, meaning that more businesses now fall under the legislation.

Recycling food waste instead of dumping it at the local tip is a big part of the Scottish Government’s strategy for hitting its climate change targets. When food begins to break down, it produces methane, which traps even more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

Stopping food going into landfill could prevent the equivalent of 27 million tonnes of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere, which would have the same effect as taking 166,000 cars off Scotland’s roads. When we’re dealing with such large numbers, it’s easy to see why recycling is such an important step in protecting both our own beautiful country and people in developing nat­ions who are bearing the full brunt of climate change.

What happens to that food waste during the recycling process is also important. The food that we collect from our customers in Edinburgh, Glasgow and other parts of the Central Belt is put into an anaerobic dig­ester, in which bacteria break down the waste and produce biogas, which can be used to generate electricity. In Aberdeenshire, where our family business was founded, we also turn food waste into compost, giving farmers an alternative to expensive chemical fertilisers.

This isn’t just about helping the environment though – recycling food waste can also save businesses and organisations money. If you’re paying to have your leftovers collected then all of a sudden you start to see how much of your cash you’re throwing away each week.

Iain Gulland, the chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland, estimates that businesses could save £192 million a year if they reduced the amount of food scraps going to landfill. When you add up the figures for the whole of the UK, that total rises to £17 billion for businesses, homes and public sector sites. More than 40 per cent of the rubbish being chucked into landfill by the hospitality sector is food waste, illustrating just how much money could be saved if cafés, hotels and restaurants reduced the amount that’s leftover at the end of the day.

Throughout the UK, the equivalent of almost one billion plates of food is being dumped in the bin each year. Saving money through reducing waste isn’t the only consideration either; from the start of this month, companies and organisations now face hefty fines from the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) if they don’t recycle their leftover food. On-the-spot fines will begin at £300, but repeat offenders face penalties of up to £10,000. The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and the Environment, Richard Lochhead, has been instrumental in driving change through waste regulations and recently set out his intention to introduce a food waste reduction target in Scotland, emphasising that there is no time like the present to start making changes.

Whether businesses and organisations are motivated by their environmental responsibilities or by improving their bottom line, the end result is the same. From 1 January, all businesses now need to start recycling their food waste or face a Hogmanay hangover through fines.

Grant Keenan is the managing director of Keenan Recycling