Sustainability expert explains why most of our recycling ends up in landfill and what you can do at home to avoid this.

What if I told you that the next load of carrot peel you chuck in the bin could contribute to as much C02 emissions as a quarter of all cars on the road? Would you consider recycling it to make a vegetable stock, or researching how to compost properly?

Food Waste, Photo Credits: Unsplashed

In the UK, we are avid food wasters- a label not to be so patriotic about.

Behind the Bite spoke to Adam Read, Chief External Affairs and Sustainability Officer at SUEZ Recycling & Recovery UK. He explains that managing food waste is critical to the UK achieving net zero (cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible).

Sadly, only a third of the UK currently has access to a food waste collection bin, leaving them to dispose of it with their other rubbish.

We bin 9.5 million tonnes of the stuff every single year. This is striking considering 8.4 million people in the UK are in food poverty.

Would you also believe me if I told you that the packet of mince gone off at your back of the fridge has wasted 50,000 litres of water once you inevitably give it the boot? Well start believing.

I wonder how many people consider where their carrot peel will actually end up after they toss it in the bin? Perhaps it is time to get that thumb greener and consider how to effectively recycle. 

In the UK, food waste is collected separately from general waste. In an ideal world, it is then treated in two ways, either by in-vessel composting or anaerobic digestion. Both methods are environmentally friendly and can be used as fertiliser or biogas to generate electricity.

Unfortunately, the mismanagement of food waste by leaving food to rot in landfill sites is all too common. This can cause the release of methane gas into the environment causing consequential contributions to the climate crisis.

However, things are due to change.

Read says that from 2025 new legislation will mean every household and most businesses will get a weekly food waste collection. “SUEZ composts the food waste we collect and receive or uses it to produce renewable energy. Our composting centres accept food waste alongside garden waste, turning it into bio-fertiliser and soil conditioner which we sell to garden centres and to farms.”

The reason a lot of our household recycling ends up in landfill is due to poor quality materials being recycled. This is partially due to unclear recycling instructions on packaging, but also due to minimal effort form households to ensure they are disposing of things properly.

Read says: “Putting the wrong things in the recycling bin can contaminate good quality recycling, for example, food left over in a pizza box. Stuff we can’t recycle needs to be properly discarded and we all have our role to play in this. Most people know that recycling is a good habit for the environment but are often unsure of what goes into which bin.

“To combat this, change is needed to improve the way we collect and recycle waste materials. We need environmental policies from government such as taxes on hard-to-recycle packaging like plastic.”

To improve the recycling system, he explains that we must focus on education and improving awareness to help consumers to recycle accurately. “When thinking about reducing waste, people should avoid single-use products as much as possible, they can buy refillable products and get broken stuff repaired instead of throwing it out.”

Composting bin, Photo Credits: Unsplashed

If you’re wondering what you can do at home to improve the way you recycle your food waste, Reads’ advice is to take part in your local compost collection service (if you have one).

You can do this by collecting your scraps in a small compost bin and emptying it once full, into your nearby public compost disposal bin. This small bit of extra effort can make a huge difference.

Recycling alone is great, but the one thing that’s better is preventing it. Read suggests only buying what you need and using up any leftovers where possible. “We need to go further and change our make, take and dispose consumer culture.

Ultimately, we need to consume less and reuse more in order to create less waste in the first place.  It’s not about banning things we enjoy or love doing, it’s about realising opportunities and rethinking our relationship with ‘stuff’.”

So, it is time to stop overbuying, plan your weekly meals, and check those pesky expiration dates. Begin to be savvier with those scraps and perhaps even invest a composting bin if you haven’t already- the planet will thank you later.