BaxterStorey's innovative approach to Food waste management

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 Adrienne Cohen describes the nationwide programme of recycling food waste into green energy set up by BaxterStorey, one of the UK’s leading catering companies.

by Adrienne Cohen

Waste is an unavoidable by-product of delivering food services. A breathtaking 3.5 million tonnes of food waste from the UK hospitality sector goes into landfill sites every year. Caterers have ‘greened’ their services in recent years with sustainable produce and recycled packaging, but the issue of waste management is becoming an increasingly hot topic. 

BaxterStorey’s view

One example of a company looking to manage its burden more effectively is BaxterStorey, one of the UK’s leading independent food service management companies. The company prepares and serves over 25 million freshly prepared meals every year in staff restaurants throughout the UK to clients including Barclays, Selfridges, ITV and Virgin Atlantic Airways.

Mike Hanson, Head of Sustainability and Environmental Management at BaxterStorey, agrees that the catering industry needs to pay greater attention to the role of food waste management in its overall approach to sustainability and vitally, profitability. ‘Sustainable practice that involves precise waste management practice in the workplace kitchen, and sound economic management is a strong proposition for caterers and their clients to consider. The current climate dictates that all businesses must be operating in all aspects in a manner sensitive to the environment, and also in a fashion that makes the most fiscal prudence for their survival. Landfill taxes have risen astronomically, and the recent budget announced that landfill tax is set to double again from the current £40 per tonne to £80 within three years. This is a cost that catering operations are going to have to get their heads around controlling quickly.’

Mike Hanson believes that the hospitality industry has a great opportunity to be seen to be doing more than simply complying with waste regulations. ‘As a significant contributor to the food waste mountain, catering providers must focus more intently on food waste management and avoid sending food waste to landfill wherever possible. The range of options for dealing with food waste is expanding all the time and innovation in this area is also showing itself to deliver practical and affordable actions which can be readily implemented.’

For BaxterStorey, waste management – and in particular food waste management – is a key tenet of its overall sustainability practice. The company has won a series of awards for its sustainable behaviour and, in 2009, became the first company in its sector to launch a nationwide programme of recycling food waste into green energy. Its launch, explains Mike Hanson, was not simple. ‘We operate from more than 700 sites across the UK and finding a local solution to manage each site’s food waste was a complex issue. In an ideal world we’d compost all of our food waste and we do have a series of partnerships with local facilities where such a solution is in use. However we have not been able to make use of composting on a broad scale simply because not every site has a local facility for this to be an achievable goal.’

BaxterStorey chose a waste to renewable energy programme as a national service over composting as it made more operational sense for them. As Mike Hanson explains, ‘We were able to partner with a specialist whose own network made it a sensible option for us to use the bio-energy route. Frankly, we’d be undoing all the good we were hoping to achieve by composting if we were having to road haul the waste across long stretches to find a suitable unit in which we could manage the process.’

Converting food waste to biofuel

Working with PDM Group, one of the UK’s largest food chain by-product recyclers, BaxterStorey began a trial in September 2008 to recycle waste food from the kitchens it operates into biofuel. The trial was so successful that within six months the project was rolled out making the service available to all clients. To date, 230 tonnes of food waste have been recycled into 57 MWh of renewable energy, enabling 50 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use to be displaced.

Finding the best solutions to manage BaxterStorey’s food waste was a complicated procedure.

The service has now been implemented at 10 % of all sites and BaxterStorey is hopeful that the pace of roll-out will increase over the coming months. The biggest issue the company faces in extending the programme’s reach is client understanding of the issue, and the ability for them to see this as not simply another cost. As Mike Hanson points out, ‘We operate the kitchens on behalf of our clients and, while we encourage all of our clients to use alternative waste management streams, ultimately the decision is theirs.’

BaxterStorey has embarked on a joint communications programme with PDM Group to help clients understand the benefits of the service. Clients’ initial reactions are positive but, when they consider the operational process, many hesitate about instituting it. ‘The fear of rotting food in bins remaining on the site and the complication of more than one waste operator collecting from their site is a real barrier for many, even though we can prove that these issues are easily surmountable.’

Where the service is used, food waste is separated at source using small kitchen caddies which are then emptied into in larger bins outside the kitchen. The PDM system enables BaxterStorey’s staff to capture all its food waste, explains PDM’s Commercial Director, Philip Simpson. ‘Our innovative process enables caterers to recycle all types of food waste with no additional work other than putting it in a separate bin. We can handle raw meats and fish, which would need to be cooked even to go to landfill, and packaged food, which can also go straight into our bins that we can separate in our de-pack unit.’

PDM offers BaxterStorey a dedicated service, collecting bins when needed – be it daily, three times a week, or just weekly. As PDM’s service is national, it takes the waste to its nearest sites where it is bulked up with other food waste from retailers, hotels and restaurants. The waste is then taken to PDM’s integrated renewable energy and recycling plant in Widnes – the first facility of its kind in the world.

Once the food arrives at the facility it passes through a de-packaging unit where it is separated from tins, cartons and plastics. It is then mulched into a puree which is used as a wet fuel for the facility’s combined heat and power (CHP) plant. ‘This carbon neutral process can recycle more than 200,000 tonnes of food waste a year into enough energy to power approximately 16,000 homes. The added environmental benefit is there is no by-product, other than electricity, so there is no risk of creating another waste stream,’ adds Philip Simpson.

Anaerobic digestion added

Over the next 12 months, some of BaxterStorey’s food waste will be turned into renewable energy by anaerobic digestion (AD) as a new digester at PDM’s Doncaster site becomes fully operational. This technology is seeing great uptake from retailers. Philip Simpson says, ‘Anaerobic digestion is probably the greenest form of food waste recycling technology currently available.’ The technology is seeing significant government support, with AD projects eligible to access millions of pounds of funding.
The PDM anaerobic digester can process around 45,000 tonnes of food waste per year, generating 2 MW of renewable energy and providing enough power for some 4000 homes. The digester will also produce 40,000 tonnes of nutrient-rich fertiliser each year for use by local farmers.

Persuading caterers to recycle food waste

As the range of alternative routes to landfill grows and become more accessible, why isn’t the catering industry responding to the need to manage the disposal of waste food in a more effective manner and help reduce the food waste mountain they contribute to? Along with the well-worn response that more education is needed, Mike Hanson says, ‘At the bottom of everything caterers are business people. You need to appeal to their financial instinct to drive change.’

While the impact of soaring landfill tax is sure to make some open their eyes, Mike Hanson believes that this alone will not galvanise the majority to make rapid change. ‘Landfill tax has been rising at an excessive rate for some years now and this still has not spurred significant action. We manage waste carefully at BaxterStorey because we believe it’s the ethical thing to do – but we’re in a minority. If a stronger commercial tag can be placed on the issue then we’ll get there faster.’

Consumer awareness of food waste issues has increased in recent years.

Mike Hanson cites the need for waste management partners to give their clients more financial incentive to support a shift in the mindset. ‘There is an excellent opportunity to pitch waste being turned into bio-energy as a revenue driver to the caterer. If the processor splits revenues from sale of energy to the utility houses more generously, they’ll grow demand far more quickly.’

He adds that taking a bottom line approach may certainly be what makes many listen initially, but an even more creative route that processing partners should be considering is to help the caterers grow their businesses and become partners in the truest sense to their clients. This is what he’d like to see in the longer term. ‘From provenance to food miles, Fairtrade to organic, consumer awareness of all sustainability-focused food issues is on the up. Food processing companies should seize on this. Splitting revenue from the sale of green energy from food waste so that the caterer can donate the revenue to charitable or community causes is a really strong marketing message that the end client can use, and one that encourages consumers and businesses to buy products and services.’

This is especially true for contract caterers whose blue chip clients are obliged to report on corporate social responsibility. Mike Hanson concludes, ‘The more we can assist our clients’ ability to meet their CSR goals, the better. If processing partners work more closely with caterers to help them attract greater business, the result is going to be a win for all – more catering demand, more waste and more waste management.’

Adrienne Cohen from hothouse in Rickmansworth, UK, writes on behalf of BaxterStorey

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