Food Waste in Wales: We are world class recyclers.

Food Waste in Wales: Top World Recycler Accolade for the Welsh

The story of food waste in Wales in recent years has become an inspiration to many in the waste industry in general and the biogas industry in particular. It is so good that the nation that has been described as “hating waste”, has become a world leader for its high rate of organic recycling, ranking with the world's highest half-dozen nations for recycling rates.

How Wales Leads the Way in Food Waste Collection and Treatment

Wales is setting the global standard for managing food waste, creating renewable energy through innovative anaerobic digestion and biogas plant technologies. This article explores Wales' journey and how it offers a model for the world.

The urgent global problem of food waste treatment and disposal has met a formidable challenger – the Welsh Government. Their strategic initiatives provide critical lessons on sustainable waste management practices.

Food Waste in Wales: Rugby players leap for a trophy!

Food Waste in Wales: The Problem and its Impacts

In Wales, food waste is a pressing issue, with tonnes of edible food discarded annually. Such waste not only leads to economic loss but also poses significant environmental hazards, from landfill overfill to methane gas emissions. Recognising the scale of the issue, the Welsh Government has pioneered initiatives to reduce food waste and landfill disposal, showcasing the nation's commitment to a sustainable future.

The Welsh Government, guided by public opinion, has for some time been implementing plans to tackle the problem of food waste.

It simply has to be done, not just in Wales (and Scotland which also has an impressive food waste record) if the UK is to comply with its own goals as part of the Climate Change Act.

Promises made to the world to reduce net carbon emissions will drive action globally on food waste reduction. Pledges began to be made by governments at the 2015 Paris Accord and have been repeated since.

The 2015 Paris Accord was the event when along with nearly 200 other countries, the UK committed to the Paris Climate Agreement, an ambitious global action plan to fight climate change.

Welsh Government – Moving Ahead on Food Waste in Wales

The Welsh government is moving ahead with plans to as far as possible prevent food waste, and recycle the rest (using Anaerobic Digestion), while in England there has been little improvement and even some sliding-back in recent years.

In England, the overall recycling rate (at around 45%) is well below Wales' which is over 60%.

Wales has been doing particularly well with food waste through:

  • reducing food waste processing losses,
  • adding value to “close to sell-by-date” food,
  • increase the reuse of food as animal feed while not endangering food safety,
  • redistribution of surplus food,
  • reducing food waste in the home by encouraging better food-buying practices when shopping etc.

For the management of food waste, which cannot be prevented or prepared for reuse, they have been implementing plans to:

  • collect it ALL separately and treat it by Anaerobic Digestion. That includes not just household food waste, but industrial and commercial food waste as well.
  • to produce a Quality Protocol-compliant output known as “digestate (which will be certified against the BSI PAS110 certification scheme to enable it) to be recycled to land as a natural fertiliser,
  • recover and use the resultant biogas to generate renewable energy used as a renewable fuel.

These actions will be significant in reducing the impact of climate change from food waste in Wales.

Biogen Implements Sustainable Waste Management System of the Future

One of the key players in the food waste management scene in Wales is Biogen. This forward-thinking company specialises in the treatment of organic waste, primarily through anaerobic digestion. This process breaks down the organic material in food waste, producing biogas – a renewable source of energy.

Biogen's approach combines waste reduction and energy production, offering a sustainable and innovative solution for the problem of treatment and disposal of food waste in Wales.

Food Waste Biogas Plants in Wales

The Welsh Government has established arrangements to transport kerbside collected household food waste to biogas plants across the country. These plants, many operated by Biogen, use this waste to produce energy and fertilisers, further driving the circular economy model. This operation reduces landfill usage and environmental impacts while promoting renewable energy and soil health. By striving towards zero waste, Biogen is effecting positive change in both the local community and the environment.

Wales Advances Where England Awaits Action on Raising Food Waste Recycling Rates

Back in December 2018, Westminster published a long-awaited update of the previous long-outdated Waste Strategy, but so far there has been no action to implement it.

The UK  Resources and Waste strategy for England strategy sets out how we will: “preserve our stock of material resources by minimising waste, promoting resource efficiency and moving towards a circular economy. minimise the damage caused to our natural environment by reducing and managing waste safely and carefully”.

Fine words but with little action, this remains no more than a promise for 2/3rds of the population in England, who want to recycle their food waste but don't have access to a kerbside food waste collection service provided by their Council.

In contrast to England's lack of action, almost everyone in Wales has a food waste collection service already, and their government has its own clear legal and policy framework comprising:

  • Waste (Wales)  has set a statutory recycling target for Local Authorities to achieve an overall recycling rate of 70% by 2025, and the
  • Landfill Allowances Scheme which restricts the amount of biodegradable municipal waste  (BMW) sent to landfill.

In Wales, the assembly has recognized that this can't be done without central government support for the Local Authorities who need to implement this policy. They are providing funds for:

  • An additional approximate £23 million of funding for separate collection of food waste (to bring 99% of households within the service). This is in fact funding which has been in place since 2008.
  • Waste communications campaigns“Love Food, Hate Waste and Recycle for Wales”.
  • Procurement support for Anaerobic Digestion plant development.

Food Waste Collection in Wales Now

This means that the following is provided for Welsh householders:

  • All residents are provided with kitchen caddies
  • Most are provided with free liners.

That's the “carrot” which is waved in front of the Welsh public.

But, in return, there is a big “ask” on them to actually recycle. And, some would call this the “stick”, in the form of…

  • Restrictions on what is placed in the mixed (black or “residual waste”) bag:
    • Achieved through reduced frequency collections (all frequencies 2 weekly or less often),
    • smaller bins, or a
    • restriction on the number of mixed waste black bags which the Council's collection service will pick-up
  • Stickers are attached to residual bins – ‘no food waste’
  • Intensive communication campaigns
  • Door knocking to explain the system/ encourage compliance.
Food Recycling in Wales: Typical information communicated to Welsh households. Tpical
The Welsh are provided with information to communicate, the need (especially the cost), the means of “how to do it”, and they are told what happens after it leaves their homes, for food waste collection in Wales.


Waste Collection in Wales – “The Blueprint”

The Welsh waste collections blueprint.

How Welsh Waste Recycling Targets Have Been Met All the Way to 2020

Food waste success as targets are shown to have been met all the way to 2020!
Food Waste in Wales Success! Targets set have been targets met, (or exceeded) all the way to 2020!

The Result Today: Wales is Top for Household Waste Recycling in the UK!

Table shows that Wales is the best for food waste recycling
The table above shows that Wales is the best in the UK for overall recycling.

The Result: Wales 3rd from Top in The World by 2020!

Wales is Wales 3rd best recycler in world in 2020.
Wales was the 3rd best recycling nation in the world in 2020, while Scotland and England fail to make the top 10, as shown in the above table.


It is clear that Wales is an example to the rest of the UK, in just what can be achieved, when the whole population is provided with a separate food waste collection.

Whether, England, Scotland or Northern Ireland would be doing as well, or even better than Wales for recycling rates, if they too had the 100% availability of separate food waste collection, can only be guessed.

There is today a large disparity between the UK nations in terms of the percentage of households that are currently provided with a separate food waste collection service by their local authority.  The table below shows the percentage of local authorities collecting food waste as a separate service in 2017/18.

England 35%
Wales 100%
Scotland 56%
Northern Ireland 9%
UK 39%

Source: WRAP

The Municipal Food Waste Treatment Procurement Programme for Wales

The current leading status for Wales has come about as a result of the Welsh Municipal Food Waste Treatment Procurement Programme. That is an ongoing project which can be summarised as:

  • £50m capital programme, delivered through public-private partnerships, to support local authorities in delivering sufficient food waste treatment capacity (from local authority collected food waste) to meet EU landfill diversion and statutory national recycling targets.
  • The work is delivered through the work of 7 local authority “hubs” in the procurement programme (comprising 17 out of the 22 Welsh local authorities).
  • The programme had, by 2020, delivered treatment capacity in anaerobic digestion plants of 141,000 tonnes per annum and was producing over 7MW of renewable electricity.

The programme has progressed to the point that at this time there are 7 biogas plants contracted to accept SSO (source-separated organics) Of these 7 Welsh AD facilities are in operation.

As you would expect with more biodegradable organic waste being sent to biogas plants in Wales, Wales also wins as the UK nation which puts the lowest proportion of its organic waste in landfills.

Looking to the Future for Further Food Waste Recycling Gains in Wales

There is still a whole lot to do to achieve the target of an overall recycling rate of 70% by 2025, for the total waste of the Welsh nation including their household residual mixed waste. That's not to forget residual industrial and commercial waste – which also contains a proportion of food waste and other easily digestible organic matter.

WRAP has stated that:

“The majority of the [residual] waste analyzed (74.5% (+/- 2.4%) or 450,478 tonnes annually), could have potentially been recycled.”

The Welsh Government announced in 2020 that it intended to bring forward regulations under the Environment (Wales) Act 2016. Those regulations are likely to include amendments to the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and Waste (Wales) Measure 2010 (as amended) and to:

  • commence a ban on the disposal of food waste to sewers.
  • It has consulted on options.

The next stage of the programme will be to improve the recycling rates of non-domestic wastes. If they are successful, and we have no reason to see why they won't be, Wales will quite possibly, during 2023, become a global leader in their rate of food waste avoidance, and when not preventable, recycling, via anaerobic digestion and biogas production. Furthermore, they may even beat Germany and Taiwan to the top place!

The occupiers of non-domestic premises in Wales will, in the next couple of years, present the following separately for collection.

  • paper, card, glass, metal, plastic;
  • food produced by premises producing more than 5kg/week;
  • WEEE;
  • textiles.

Those that collect these waste materials are to collect materials in the following streams
paper, card, glass, metal, plastic;

  • food collected from premises producing more than 5kg/week;
  • WEEE;
  • textiles.

The disposal of food waste to sewer from business premises in Wales is expected to be prohibited.

The incineration of recyclable loads of some specified materials will be likely to be banned.

The landfilling of recyclable loads of the specified materials would be banned. In addition to the above materials, wood waste may be banned from landfills in Wales.

Lessons for the World – Food Waste in Wales Setting an Example

The Welsh approach to food waste management offers a blueprint for the rest of the world. By adhering to the waste hierarchy, prioritising prevention, reduction, and recycling, Wales has dramatically reduced food waste.

The last resort, when there's no other use for food waste, is to send it (specifically source-separated kitchen waste collected in caddies by the local council) to an anaerobic digestion plant. This model not only minimises waste but also converts it into a resource, creating a closed-loop system that benefits both the environment and the economy.

Conclusion to this Article About Successful Amelioration of the Climate Damaging Effects of Food Waste in Wales

Wales is a nation that has successfully turned the challenge of food waste into an opportunity for sustainability and renewable energy production. The Welsh model of waste management provides a valuable lesson for the rest of the world, showing us that a more sustainable future is possible through innovative and strategic practices.

We started this article by posing the question of whether Wales, which we described as the nation that “hates waste” might soon rise from being the third-best nation at recycling globally to the top spot!

We do indeed think that Wales could do just that. Why do we think the nation could be the best world recycler soon, especially when every other EU country has also been set the same 70% target?

The reason is that as described above, the Welsh government is far from done. In their Waste Strategy they have declared their intent to:

“Make more efficient use of our food: We will lead the way in eradicating avoidable food waste by looking at the whole supply chain and working with businesses from farm to fork to minimise waste and maximise resource efficiency.”

And, they have barely started their campaigning on improving the recycling rates of non-domestic wastes, wherein lies enormous potential.

But more important than all is, in our opinion the proven willingness of the people of Wales to separate and dispose of their food scraps and do that daily in millions of kitchens across the nation.

Images used in featured images: Rugby Players  “Free for commercial use” and Welsh Ladies from CC0 1.0 Public Domain.

Tags: ,
Previous Post
Image shows a man identifying the Borger salmon crusher.
Food Waste Anaerobic Digestion

Salmon Waste Management: The Borger MultiCrusher™ Salmon Crusher

Next Post
New AD Plant Starts 2023
Anaerobic Digestion

New Anaerobic Digestion Plant: Starts, Opens or Commissioned in 2023

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

A note to our visitors:

By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our updated privacy policy.

Privacy Policy