Going Circular - From fork to farm

From fork to farm

Recycling our food waste and compostable packaging


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Charlotte Henderson: There is about 10million tonnes of food wasted in the UK.  Put a financial figure against that and that is about £17bn a year.

Bridge Jackson: Food waste has really big environmental impacts.  As it decomposes it emits carbon dioxide and methane, both of which contribute to climate change.

Charlotte Henderson: 20% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food.  70% of the water footprint for the UK is associated with that food so we need to make sure that we are making the best use of that food and we are not wasting it.

Jon Barnes: If you start looking at the levels of food waste that we have, you start to think this is far too much, we are wasting far too much food. That is clearly something we do not have to do. 

Bridget Jackson: We are trying to tackle our foods waste in a number of ways.  The first of them is to reduce the amount of food we use in the first place, wastage in the kitchens and portion size.  

Segregating waste

If you are trying to reduce your general waste and your food waste, then you clearly need to segregate that. Suez are our national waste providers. 

Dan Quarterman: We worked with PwC in the upgrade of their hub areas and the configuration of the signage in order to make life as easy as possible.  

Jon Barnes: If you make things difficult for people, then they are not going to do it.  The business, this is not their core activity 

Moving to compostable packaging 

Bridget Jackson: As we looked at all the different items that were going into the waste one of them really stood out as being problematic, and that was food packaging. 

Dan Quarterman: Food packaging traditionally is made of a composite material which is notoriously hard to segregate and recycle.  It is disposed of as general waste at a higher cost.

Bridget Jackson: We chose to replace all of the food packaging including disposable coffee cups with something that was completely compostable.  We identified a supplier called Vegware who make a product which is fully compostable in 12 weeks. 

Recycling food waste through anaerobic digestion 

There are two main disposal methods for food waste and compostable packaging, which is anaerobic digestion or in vessel composting. Within the South East of England, the food waste from PwC is transported by Suez to Biogen in Hertfordshire.

Simon Musther: This is Bio Gen’s Baldock plant, one of 7 across the UK.  This one processes 54,000 tons of food waste every year.  On average we get between 10-12 deliveries every day and those vehicles can take up to 28 tonnes a time.  It is always delivered into the reception area here, the vehicles lift it up, process it through hammer mills and they squeeze out all the organic fraction which creates the porridge like consistency.  We then feed the waste into the two digesters which are back there.  That is where the natural bacterial is seeded.  In there we capture the methane gas which is what powers the engines at the front.  This is the high quality methane that we store here which we capture from the digesters which produces enough power for 3,000 homes.  The other by product is liquid fertiliser which is highly nutritious and is used on the land adjacent to the site.

James Northern: At Manor Farm we farm wheat and barley.  We have got oilseed rape, peas and potatoes.  Biogen approached us and said that one of the things they were going to be looking for was somewhere to put the digestates. We were interested to talk to them knowing that it has a number of nutrients in it.  Nitrogen is most beneficial as the crops take it up straight away which produces a really good green leaf cover, the more green the crop the more yield you will get.  

Lower costs many benefits

Bridget Jackson: Companies may think that recycling food waste or food packaging is going to cost them money but in actual fact our experience would suggest that you make quite considerable savings.  By moving food waste away from landfill or incineration we think that we have made a cost saving of around 40%.  Compostable had given us a saving of about 50% from the original costs.  

Jon Barnes: It is not a costly and it is really something that people can do and make a real difference. 

Simon Musther: We are absolutely delighted that PwC have committed themselves to this process and I think that everyone within PwC is contributing food waste should be absolutely proud of what they are doing; it is a signal to everyone else that they should be following suit 

Jon Barnes: You have to get excited about this, this is our planet, these are our children, we have got to start doing something about it.  This is about joining together with the people who process your waste for you, coming up with innovations, trying different things. 

Charlotte Henderson: This is really about changing hearts and minds.  There is still more that could be done, and it is great to see the leadership from PwC in this area. 

Everyone in the organisation needs someone who is passionate about and who wants to make a difference.  The more employees that an organisation has like that the more chance they have in succeeding in their environmental goals.

Contact us

Bridget Jackson

Chief Sustainability Officer, PwC United Kingdom

Henry le Fleming

Assistant Director, Plastics & Circular Economy Lead, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7213 4097