Leeds Beckett University introduces initiative to recycle food waste
As part of a campus-wide commitment to setting the standards in sustainability, Leeds Beckett University (LBU) partnered with ReFood to recycle the food waste arising from its food court. Since implementing the initiative, LBU has eliminated its reliance on landfill, with plate scrapings and spoiled produce now used to generate renewable energy.
Ranked seventh in the ‘University of the Year’ category in the WhatUni Awards 2022, Leeds Beckett University offers a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses to more than 24,000 students every year. Every year, the university delivers a £1.43bn impact on the UK economy. This represents a return of more than £6 for every £1 spent on university operations.
Alongside delivering teaching excellence and economic impact, LBU prides itself on state-of-the-art facilities, an unmatched student experience and its campus-wide commitment to sustainability. The first English university to achieve ISO 140001 accreditation for international environment standards, LBU has reduced its carbon output by 65% since 2005 and produces 9% of all electricity needed on site via solar panels.
As part of an ongoing drive to further improve its sustainability credentials, waste management has become a crucial component to the university’s day-to-day considerations. Alongside systems to capture and collect dry recyclables, such as packaging and coffee cups, LBU also recycles 95% of all waste generated on its construction projects – reusing 10,000 tonnes of demolition material on site.
However, one area previously overlooked was food waste arising from the university’s food court – with ten outlets preparing a large quantity of fresh food daily. Recognising an opportunity for improvement, the sustainability team turned to ReFood – the UK’s leading food waste recycler – to implement a solution.
Harnessing food waste recycling
Working with UK businesses from across the food supply chain, ReFood collects more than 400,000 tonnes of food and drink waste every year, turning it into renewable energy and sustainable biofertiliser at its three state-of-the-art anaerobic digestion (AD) facilities.
The process sees food waste collected from dedicated bins by ReFood’s fleet of collection vehicles. From here, waste is transported to the company’s site in Doncaster and recycled to create renewable energy and biofertiliser.
Anaerobic digestion is a natural process that biologically breaks down organic material to produce biogas, which is then captured and used to generate heat and renewable energy – both gas and electricity. The remaining residue can be used as a sustainable fertiliser; enabling beneficial nutrients to be retained and reinvested back into the beginning of the food chain.
The service is upheld by ‘The Green Standard’, ReFood’s promise that food waste is handled responsibly, sustainably and efficiently through a closed-loop, end-to-end service ensuring biosecurity – and always in line with current legislation.
While food waste recycling may be considered complicated to implement, the ReFood process demonstrates how easily the services can be integrated into existing waste management practice. All types of food, including preparation waste, scraps and even packaged products, can be collected and recycled making disposal straightforward.
As part of ReFood’s unique approach, organisations also benefit from a ‘bin swap’ service, which sees full bins collected and switched for empty, sanitised replacements. This allows bins to be used directly in kitchen areas and helps staff to separate at source.
Since implementing ReFood’s food waste disposal service, Leeds Beckett University has diverted 99% of waste produced in its food court away from landfill. What’s more, the collected food waste has been used to generate renewable energy and biofertiliser, as well as preventing greenhouse gas emissions from entering the atmosphere.
Mark Warner, sustainability manager at Leeds Beckett University, said: “When looking for ways to reduce the amount of waste we sent to landfill, food waste was quickly identified as a key stream. Integrating a food waste recycling service was the obvious next step and what better partner to enlist than the market leader!
“Not only does the ReFood service provide a solution for all types of food waste, including scraps, spoiled and packaged goods, the team are flexible, reliable and committed to providing a personalised solution to fit exacting requirements. The partnership has proven hugely beneficial, contributing to our wider waste initiative, resulting in only 1% of our waste being sent to landfill.”
Philip Simpson, commercial director at ReFood, added: “Food waste is a key waste stream for educational institutions and our service offers a simple solution for this. We work with several universities across the UK to reduce their reliance on landfill, while also improving their green credentials.
“As demonstrated by Leeds Beckett University, our secure service does not require extensive changes to existing facilities and yields significant results. Our commitment to recycling food waste wherever possible is demonstrated through the flexible nature of our services, ensuring that companies across the food chain are given the opportunity to do their bit.
“At ReFood, we’re urging businesses and institutions to make food waste recycling a priority and divert as much waste as possible away from landfill.”
What is anaerobic digestion?
Anaerobic digestion (AD) is a natural process that sees organic material biologically broken down in the absence of oxygen to generate large amounts of biogas – a combination of methane and carbon dioxide. It works in a similar way to a compost heap, only on an industrial scale.
ReFood operates AD facilities across Europe, including three sites located in the UK - Dagenham, Doncaster and Widnes. At its Doncaster plant, biogas is used to fuel CHP engines, generating and exporting electricity directly to the National Grid (enough to power 10,000 homes per year).
At its London and Widnes sites, biogas undergoes a further refining process to remove carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). An odorant is added, before the biogas is pumped directly into the National Gas Grid (enough gas to supply 12,600 homes per year).
By using biogas from the AD process as a sustainable fuel, ReFood displaces the use of fossil fuels. This, in turn, reduces the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.
Nothing is wasted during the process. Even the resulting digestate is used to produce a PAS110 accredited liquid biofertiliser, which is used by local arable farms to reduce reliance on expensive chemical fertilisers.
ReFood is the UK’s leading operator, with each of its AD sites custom designed and built to divert food waste from landfill.
For further information please visit https://refood.co.uk/