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New report is a "practical guide" for policymakers on food waste reduction, collection, and treatment

A new international report by the World Biogas Association (WBA), in partnership with the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group Food, Water and Waste Programme, to help cities manage their food waste was launched May 16 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Focusing on urban food waste, its environmental impact, and the benefits of separately collecting it, treating it and recycling it through anaerobic digestion (AD), it features a how-to section to assist municipalities.

Food scrap collection at a lunch restaurant in Skellefteå, Sweden, where the city has separate collection and processing of organic waste to produce biomethane which is then used as fuel to run the city buses. The plastic bag used is bio-based.

Most cities around the world currently do not collect food waste separately, leaving it to be disposed of in dumps, landfills or incinerators. As a result, food waste is not treated and loses its potential to resolve a series of environmental issues faced by all cities.

Globally, food waste has become an increasingly recognised environmental issue over the last decade. Not only has the issue of wasted food become an ethical one in a world where approximately 800 million people suffer from hunger, but the environmental impacts of producing food that is then discarded can no longer be overlooked, said Ricardo Cepeda-Márquez, Technical Lead for the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group’s Food, Water & Waste Programme.

The report, ‘Global Food Waste Management: An Implementation Guide for Cities’, puts particular emphasis on the importance of separately collecting and treating inedible food waste, which, if implemented on a global level, would have the same impact in terms of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions reduction as taking all cars in the EU off the road.

Penned by the World Biogas Association (WBA) in collaboration with the C40 Cities Food, Water & Waste Programme, the report sets out:

  • the experiences of cities around the world in managing their food waste;
  • the best practices for preventing and reducing food waste;
  • an overview of collection systems to ensure clean food waste is brought to treatment;
  • treatment alternatives for inedible food waste, from composting to anaerobic digestion;
  • the use of outputs from the various treatment processes and how to best valorise them; and
  • the policies needed to ensure food waste is sustainably managed.

The report also highlights the role of biogas technologies, which through anaerobic digestion (AD) recycle inedible food waste into renewable heat and power, clean transport fuel, and nutrient-rich biofertiliser. AD technologies, which are mature, ready-to-implement, and cost-effective, allow maximum recovery of resources for both green energy generation and soil restoration.

The time to fight climate change is now. There is no time left to talk, as we are set to lock in emissions for a 2°C temperature rise over the next five years. Cities have a fundamental role to play and a brilliant opportunity to seize in cutting emissions as over half the world’s population now lives in urban areas. Treating inedible food waste represents an opportunity to cut emissions while resolving other issues around energy, soil quality, waste management and human health in urban areas. The technologies to resolve all these are mature and deployable now, and the WBA can support cities in their transition, remarked David Newman, President of the WBA.

HE Ahmed Aboutaleb, Mayor of Rotterdam (left), receiving a copy of the report
from WBA President David Newman (photo courtesy WBA).

The report was launched at Blue City, an incubator for circular-economy entrepreneurs based in Rotterdam. The city has developed a strong reputation for being ‘green’ and is aiming to develop the most sustainable port in the world. The Mayor of the City of Rotterdam, His Excellency Ahmed Aboutaleb, was presented with a copy of the report to mark its publication.

Cities worldwide have to focus on one of the greatest challenges of our century: to ensure balanced progress in terms of economic growth, quality of life, safety and sustainability. We therefore welcome the report from WBA and C40 because it gives a series of implementation guidelines which will be useful on how to use wasted food to produce fuels, nutrients and heat. This is one way we can reduce the impact of climate change and shift the economy as we know it into new models, structures and meaningfulness, said His Excellency Ahmed Aboutaleb, Mayor of Rotterdam.

As well as presentations from the report’s authors, the launch also featured presentations on food waste and the circular economy from sustainability platform Holland Circular Hotspot and from Blue City itself.

This report intends to be a guide to assist the decision-makers in cities that recognise the challenges of food waste management and wish to find sustainable and effective solutions. The C40 Cities Food, Water and Waste Programme and the WBA offer their collective assistance to cities coming to terms with food waste, its reduction and treatment. By making our expertise in this sector available to those willing to embrace the food waste challenge, we hope to speed up the process of change and to help cities achieve their climate change and urban sustainability goals, said Ricardo Cepeda-Márquez, C40.

The Global Methane Initiative (GMI), an organisation that promotes cost-effective, near-term methane recovery through partnerships between developed and developing countries, with participation from the private sector, development banks, and nongovernmental organisations also contributed to the report.

The challenge of food waste management is one that affects all nations and needs global collaboration to solve. Mitigation of methane from food waste diversion and capture intersects the three biogas sectors within GMI’s charter – agriculture, waste, and wastewater – and GMI is dedicated to helping find cost-effective solutions to its management. WBA’s report provides much-needed data and information to allow for educated policy decisions on how to address this challenging topic, Chris Voell, Co-Chair of the Biogas Subcommittee of GMI.

Urban food waste management will be a key topic at the upcoming UK AD & World Biogas Expo in July, taking place at the NEC in Birmingham, UK and which is being co-organised by the WBA and the UK Anaerobic Digestion & Bioresources Association (ADBA).

Today’s cities face pressures from a growing population and rising consumerism that strain infrastructure for managing municipal solid waste. The organic material in these waste streams represents a tremendous opportunity for cities to achieve sustainable waste management, and the best practices gained from this report can help put them on the road to a low-carbon future, said Brian Guzzone, Director of Waste and Climate Projects at the Eastern Research Group, who contributed to the report.

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