Business buys in - 30th November 2011

Food waste means business. Local authority household collections are relatively common these days but, increasingly, processors are also chasing feedstock from commercial premises such as supermarkets, food manufacturers or large-scale hospitality chains. Producers often drive these services, egged on by rising Landfill Tax and green policies, but a recent survey shows that SMEs are just as keen to take part.
 
Large operators tend to have well-developed waste management contracts and, especially in the case of the big hitters, the clout to dictate the service on offer, while smaller, less influential businesses find themselves at the bottom of the food chain. Earlier this week I was out surveying local restaurants and cafés; not just trialling the quality of the tea and cakes but finding out how much food waste they produce and whether they'd be interested in a separate collection to work alongside their dry material recycling. Many of the companies interviewed shared a waste management provider, but the conditions – and cost – of the service varied enormously. Some were charged rent for bins and a levy per lift; others paid a monthly fee regardless of collection frequency. 
 
In this particular area, the local authority doesn't operate commercial collection services, but this doesn't make the recently launched Business Recycling and Waste Services Commitment any less relevant. Announced in October, the initiative is designed to provide a framework for local authorities to deliver services to SMEs and aims to boost recycling rates and increase waste awareness while helping businesses to manage resources more sustainably.
 
Within the industry, there is a tendency to focus on the reluctant, be they householders or businesses, and to assume that participation will require several birch rods and a poke in the eye for good measure. Even after reading recent WRAP figures stating that SMEs produce 30 million tonnes of waste a year, over 50 per cent of which are recycled, I have to admit I was dubious. However, the survey results backed up the stats – every one of the 18 premises my colleague and I visited recycled (even the ones that didn't pay for a service but took their recycling home or disposed of it in public recycling bins!), and the enthusiasm was exceptional. Kerbside services really have set the standard and I come across more and more businesses asking why they can't access the same range of collections as households.
 
Only two of the businesses surveyed refused hands-down to be involved in the proposed food waste scheme, and at that stage I had to remind myself firmly that I wasn't in my trader liaison job at Glastonbury, where caterers sign a pledge to separate materials as a condition of their contract. My first reaction to the shifty café owner claiming that he recycled everything from glass bottles to plastic food trays and carrier bags (where, exactly?) but didn't create any food waste was: “That's great, but now I just need to go round the back and have a look at your system.” Instead, I reeled myself in, crossed him off the list and made a mental note that recycling isn't compulsory. Yet.

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