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What is food waste?

Food waste is any food that is not eaten and is thrown away instead. This might be because it has gone past its sell by date, because it didn't look normal so isn't sold in the supermarket or due to cooking too much and throwing some away. It is better to reduce food waste than recycle, by not buying or cooking too much. 

What are the benefits of recycling food waste?

  • Better for our environment - If food waste goes to a landfill site it produces a harmful gas (methane) and liquid (leachate) which can harm our natural environment.
  • Creating renewable energy - anaerobic digestionthe process of breaking down food without oxygen is one way of recycling food waste and makes fertiliser, electricity and heat.
  • Saving resources - it takes a huge amount of energy and water to grow food and even more resources such as fuel to transport the food to supermarkets across the country. Throwing away food means that we have wasted all of this effort and resources.

Wow fact: The average family of 4 wastes up to £720 a year by throwing food away!

How is anaerobic digestion used to recycle food waste?

  • Food waste arrives at the anaerobic digestion plant.
  • First the food is chewed up and anything that isn't food e.g. packaging, is removed.
  • The food looks like a soup once its been chewed up and is heated to 70°C for 1 hour to kill any bacteria or pathogens that might cause disease.
  • The waste is fed into large digestion tanks where it stays for around 55 days.
  • Micro-organismstiny living creatures so small you need a microscope to see them break down the waste and release methane.
  • Methane gas is captured and can be used to power generators to create electricity.
  • The plant also produces heat, this warms the plant and also other factories and local businesses.
  • After anaerobic digestion the remaining waste can be used as a fertiliser to improve soil as it is high in nutrients. This is spread onto the fields and it helps to grow more food!

Food waste is not only recycled by anaerobic digestion, it can also be composted! To learn more about compost, click here.

Where can you recycle food waste?

In Devon all areas, apart from Exeter City and Plymouth City, collect food waste using special food waste bins. To find out more about what you can recycle and where it is recycled in your area click here.


Click here to find out more about how you can use compost as part of your curriculum and get help starting a school compost scheme.