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Reducing the contamination of food waste. Whose job is it anyway?

Last month we shared our concerns that the problem of contamination within kerbside food waste was noticeably quiet amongst an otherwise noisy topic of food waste reforms.

As part of the Government’s Simpler Recycling plans, councils are being asked to introduce weekly residential food waste collections, where they are not already in place, by 2026.  There is much conversation around the timeframes to mobilise, the additional logistical pressures and the downward pressures on supply chains – but not about how the waste itself will need to be processed.

This got us thinking about the contamination issue.  How do we stop this, and should we really need separation equipment anyway? Of course, we should all be capable of separating and depackaging our waste before collection, and putting things in the right bins – but the reality is very different.

To tackle the issue, councils work hard on public education – in particular the onward impacts that undermine recycling and providing clarity over common innocent mistakes such as biodegradable packaging being ok to include.  As a result, many households are diligently following the rules – but ultimately, our waste comes together in the back of a lorry and unless everyone in your area is doing the same, contamination remains.

So where should the focus lie?

There is no doubt that reducing contamination at source is by far the most effective way – however people are busy and crave convenience.  Make it too tricky and they may not bother.  Give them too many different bins and they might give up.

There is also a strong focus on reducing food waste to begin with, with campaigns around only buying what we need, loving our leftovers and so on.  Indeed, part of the motivation for more food bins is to leverage the psychology of seeing just how much we waste in isolation, and in turn prompt us to take action.

Or perhaps it should lie with councils and their associated waste management partners to process the material in the most effective way for onward anaerobic digestion and/or recycling of other materials?

But in reality, there is no single solution and the public, councils and waste management companies must work together for the best result.   It’s unrealistic to think no separation will ever be required, but with better public education this can certainly reduce – in turn optimising the waste processing that does need to occur.

How can we help?

Rowan Food and Biomass Engineering supply our Dominator Depackaging machine to a number of councils already operating food waste collections, working with their waste management contractors. Our systems handle everything from intake, conveying, milling and separation, to organics transfer and the cleaning and conveying of packaging.

Our machines separate the inorganic waste from the food and are built to cope with some of the foreign items we find on a regular basis.

Not only can we provide practical support in helping local authorities identify what they need for new food collections, but through our experience and knowledge we are well placed to help educate the public on their impact too.

For more information, please contact us.