/ Food & Drink, Sustainability

Do you have a food waste bin?

Food waste can cause just as much damage to the planet as plastic waste, but not everyone has, or can have, a food waste bin. Is yours going straight to landfill?

Keeping on with the latest Which? Magazine’s very sustainable theme, last week we published three food waste facts everyone needs to know.

See what’s new in July’s Which? Magazine

I didn’t realise that of the 10.2m tonnes of food wasted in the UK, 7.1m of that figure comes from households, and a concerning 5m tonnes of it is actually edible.

I’ve shared a little anecdote on some of our recycling stories lately, including reverse vending machines most recently, so you’ll have to forgive me for indulging another – but I had a food bin for a while, or at least, I thought I did.

For some months, my block of flats had a council-provided food waste bin in the corner down in the bin room. I took my own mini food waste bin with me when I moved, so had been filling that up with a compostable bag before taking it downstairs.

But the communal food bin wasn’t getting taken away. After a while, it became full and, horribly, full of mice (or maybe rats, I didn’t hang about long after opening the lid to decide which).

It turned out that the food bin had been delivered by the council by mistake, and it was now refusing to remove it. Unfortunately my local authority doesn’t provide a food waste collection.

I’m pleased to say it was eventually removed and its unexpected tenants moved on, but now my food waste is ending up in with the general rubbish, which is definitely not ideal.

How much food do you throw away?

I wasn’t surprised to see bread on the list of items we throw away the most. Collectively, we throw away 20m slices of it every day.

I’m well aware that I’m disposing of too much of it after failing to get through a loaf most weeks – it’s something I’m making an effort to do something about, including freezing it when I know I’m not going to use it.

I wonder if refill stations, such as the ones currently on trial at Waitrose, could be a solution to things like this. Although we know that this could come with a host of hygiene-related concerns from your comments.

Do you think you’re throwing away too much food? And does your council currently provide a food waste collection service? Do you have a food bin at home? I’d be interested to see if anyone’s in a similar situation to me.


Yes, our council provides a food waste bin, and yes we use it. Our council is Cheshire West and Chester.

Yes to food bin provided by Stroud District Council and used

Vicki Dowd says:
4 July 2019

My council – Sefton MBC – have collected food waste, first weekly, then fortnightly, for a few years and have just stopped the service because of the lack of use by so many and the unrealistic cost. I am astounded that so few used this excellent service. If one is able to put oneself out a little to manage the waste and the bins, then it works really well – had very few problems other than occasionally in very hot weather we had maggots in the bin. Compared with the smell and maggots caused by using the non -recycling wheelie bin for food waste , and the putrefying liquid it generates, the food waste collection was brilliant. We have now set up a garden compost for vegetable waste, and, hopefully, will keep other food waste to a minimum. Sadly, I am having to use plastic bags to contain this in order to keep the wheelie bin clean and dry as my compostable bags break down during the fortnight we wait for our bin collection.

Vicki, you could put food waste in the freezer until collection day.

Yes, our council provides two food waste bins, one for internal use with biodegradable waste food bin liners, and one for external collection. Yes we use both. Our council is Flintshire County Council.


Our council supply’s a food waste bin (Broadland council Norwich). I use it very rarely, odd bits of fatty meat or the chicken carcass after I have boiled it up for soup. Any food scraps the dogs have, bread goes on the bird table with any fat waste. Fruit and veg waste, either goes to my parrots or the compost bin. My neighbours bins are always full, every week, that means more waste bin bags & so much more wasted food. It actually makes me quite mad at the waste alone on my street.

We have never used our food waste bin either Catherine. We do similar to you except we have foxes instead of dogs. Knowing when to put food out for the intended wildlife so it gets eaten immediately means we don’t have a problem with rats.

4 July 2019

Yes we have a food bin, yes we use it and yes our local Council collect it fortnightly. Hull City Council.

Our council provides corn starch bags for food waste and they go in the brown bin with green waste (if that makes sense). The bags are compostable and just about strong enough to survive until the bin is emptied at fortnightly intervals. The coffee grounds seem to help to avoid smell.

Apparently the council used to collect food waste separately and I inherited a caddy with the house. If they decide to resume collections I’m happy to comply. I just don’t want to compost food waste and attract vermin.

Do you know if your food/green waste goes for anaerobic digestion wavechange? If it doesn’t then I don’t think it can be composted.

I know it’s plastic, but you could have one of these in the garden to keep out vermin.

I have been trying to find out how our food waste is dealt but although there is quite a bit of information about the caddy and collection services on both the Norwich City Council and the Norfolk County Council websites nowhere does it explain what happens next. I had assumed it goes to a special plant where it is concentrated from across the county and processed by anaerobic digestion. Presumably a certain volume is needed continuously to sustain the process and make it viable, but not all the district councils in Norfolk provide a collection service so a considerable amount of food waste is probably just going into the general refuse stream.

The county council states that “for many years this waste was buried in landfill sites but now it is largely used to generate energy. Much of it is sent to three different facilities that process it into a fuel that is then exported to combined heat and power facilities in Europe. The fuel is burnt to generate electricity and heat. Exporting waste to Europe to facilities that recover both heat and electricity from the combustion process has a better carbon footprint than burying waste in a landfill site. Some waste is also sent to an energy-from-waste facility in Suffolk. The waste is burnt to produce energy while scrap metals and ash generated from the process are recycled.”

I doubt that burning food waste is a desirable or efficient process and it would be much better if it was all collected by the relevant district councils and transferred to an anaerobic digestion plant. There might be sound reasons why a food waste collection service is not provided in the rural areas of the county. The uptake of the collection service is virtually universal in our area of Norwich which is perhaps more environmentally conscious than some other areas

Nothing wrong with permanent plastic items, alfa. 🙂

I keep two compost heaps, about 4 ft cube, going using garden waste but have never put food waste in them. I thought it would encourage vermin and, in practice, I produce very little volume of unused food anyway.

Our County Council send all food to an anaerobic digester where it is turned into biogas → electricity and farm fertiliser.

They also collect green waste that is composted for diy stores and agriculture. The problem with this stuff, as I see it, is contamination with herbicides, especially from grass clippings when your lawn is treated.

The RHS say: ““Clopyralid and composting of mowings:

Weedkillers containing clopyralid (e.g. Vitax LawnClear 2, Vitax Green Up Lawn Liquid Feed & Weed, Roundup Lawn Weedkiller and Weedol Lawn Weedkiller) have to be used with especial caution. This herbicide binds to leaves and stems which is useful in preventing accidental damage and pollution, but mowings retain active herbicide. Once bound to grass the herbicide takes time to break down. For this reason it is essential that the label recommendations are followed concerning disposal of mowings. Typically this will involve avoiding composting the first mowings after treatment or using them as a mulch. The ideal way to dispose of such mowings is to mow frequently or with a mulching mower so that clippings fall back into the sward. If this is not possible we suggest composting mowings separately and later applying composted material only to turf.

Manufacturers may also give a period of composting for subsequent mowings (but not the first mowing) after which the herbicide will have decayed – typically this will be around 9 months. Treated clippings should not be added to municipal green waste composting as there is the risk of spreading contaminated compost…..

A number of cases in 2016 suggest some sources of growing media (e.g. growbags) may be contaminated with hormonal weedkiller, most likely from composted green waste containing clopyralid. See section below on how to run a germination test if you suspect a compost may be a source of weedkiller residues.

It seems to me from the shelf loads of lawn weedkiller on display in garden centres and hardware shops that people are applying increasing volumes of herbicides to their lawns so considerable quantities are getting into the municipal compost stream. Most people with a garden seem to have a garden waste bin and use it for everything; having paid for disposal, they are not going to put in the effort to manage and turn compost heaps or segregate their grass clippings. They end up buying back their contaminated material in the form of multi-purpose compost which is also selling in massive volumes nowadays – it can’t all be pure and free of harmful chemicals.

I buy peat-based compost to avoid this problem and some of the rubbish that goes into peat-free. I generally mix it with one of the JI soil-based composts to give it some body and make it easier to water.

Making and maintaining a compost heap is simple and a cheap way of getting a soil improver and doesn’t take up a lot of space. I use my rotary mower to chop and collect hedge clippings. Garotta seems to help the process.

I agree with you, Malcolm. I use a compost bin [as modelled by Alfa] and it produces superb material. The only composts I buy are small amounts of ericaceous compost and specialist ones. Even though I rarely use weed-killer on the lawns all the lawn clippings go in the brown bin because they do not compost well.

Many people with a small garden do not want to give up the space required for compost heaps or bins, especially if it would be on show, but attitudes are changing and I find more people nowadays are proud of their composting and recycling performance. From the age of five I remember compost heaps in the garden at home and on the allotment.

Anaerobic Digestion is the future.

I have worked at a factory in Doncaster called ReFood they produce nearly 5,000 kilowatts of electricity an hour from food waste.

They also have recycling centres in Widnes and Dagenham between them produce 4,000 cubic metres of gas that goes into the gas grid.

The leftover food is used as compost.

Alfa – Our council does not currently use anaerobic digestion and our MP seems to have provided the main opposition. I’m surprised that the main concern was transport of material rather than smell. At the moment much of my gardening waste is not very compostable and a friend provides me with as much compost as I need, but I hope to start composting soon.

Kieron: did you mean 5 kw, not 5000, which is 5MWe and the sort of output a small nuclear reactor could manage? Having said that the potential to produce sufficient gas to generate significant power from thrown away food does seem to exist.

kW an hour or kW/h is definitely wrong.

Refood’s interesting, but somewhat confusing, website says that its Doncaster plant “generates 5MWh of renewable energy” as electricity, the Widnes plant creates “15MWh of energy” in biogas form, and the Dagenham plant generates “14million m³ of gas per annum”.

https://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_392686_en.pdf gives some information. It quotes the Dagenham plant as aiming to “export” 12 000 000 kWh p.a.

I was initially surprised that SGM used anything as ungainly as 12,000,000 kWh rather than 12 GWh, but it’s for a general audience who are likely to be familiar with kWh.

Wavechange, I was under the impressions that food waste such as meat cannot be composted along with green garden waste.

Does this mean your council doesn’t actually recycle garden waste?

Different councils have different rules, Alfa. Ours says that garden waste and food (including meat) can go in the brown bin with the green garden waste. Compostable bags for food waste can be collected from libraries and recycling centres, though it is not specified that food waste must be in them. Where I used to live, all food waste had to be in compostable bags and not put directly in the brown bin with garden waste. The bin men would provide the bags on request. When staying with friends or family I look online to see what goes in each bin or box having foolishly used my initiative in the past.

Norwich City Council provides an indoor caddy and an outdoor mini-bin. The caddy’s contents are transferred to the outdoor bin which is emptied weekly. We have to provide our own liners but bread packets and other thin-film bags are acceptable now.

It might be interesting to find out why Norwich CC says that it’s OK to use ordinary plastic bags as caddy liners, since they will interfere with composting unless emptied and removed.

If Norfolk County Council is using Refood [or a similar operation] for the disposal of the food waste then the process involves the removal of all packaging. Looking at the Refood website yesterday it seems that they can cope with all sorts of containment for food waste and it is separated before the food material goes into the anaerobic digestion plant.

Refood also has a sister company that collects and deals with fat and bone and it is possible that meat waste is diverted to that stream.

I can’t say I am fascinated by this but it has been very interesting. I had not realised how sophisticated the processing of food waste had become and the technology and the investment are certainly impressive. The key to this, obviously, is the value of the outputs in the form of gas or electricity and the saving in landfill costs. The need for renewable energy sources has clearly tipped the balance and coupling the processing plants to the energy grids makes sense. Finding beneficial markets for the residual waste in both liquid and solid forms has also been crucial thus producing a cycle of production and reuse that is highly sustainable.

Thanks John. I wonder what happens to all the polythene bags used for food waste. I had not encountered any other council that allows this, though it is not something I have studied. According to Norwich CC, some residents are provided with caddy liners, which I assume are compostable although this is not stated.

The council issued free compostable caddy liners to households when it wanted to boost the recycling rate recently. It had been found that although nearly all residents had been provided with a kitchen caddy and a small bin for the collection of food waste only a minority were in regular use. The council has not continued with the supply so people have been asked to either line their caddies with newspaper or buy their own compostable bags or use an alternative thin-film bag like a bread packet or the sort of bags supermarkets provide at fruit and veg counters. I presume the polythene bags people might use to enclose their food waste, after separation, are processed in some way for recycling but I have not seen any information on that.

I don’t think there is much chance of polythene bags that have contained festering food waste are going to be recycled, so landfill or incineration seem more likely. I’d love to be shown to be wrong.

Norwich food waste is taken to an anaerobic digestion plant run by a company called Biogen in Herefordshire to be recycled. To put it simply, the food waste is put into giant sealed, oxygen-free tanks where it is gradually broken down to produce biogas and biofertilizer.

The biogas produced is fed back into the national grid to power our homes and buildings. The biofertilizer is used on agricultural farm land to enrich the soil.

Due to new technology at Biogen, they can now accept plastic bags if they are used to line kitchen caddies. Machinery separates the bags and liners from the food waste. Those bags and liners are then sent to the energy from waste plant to be turned into electricity.

Residents are encouraged to reuse existing plastic bags to line their kitchen caddy, such as bread bags which would otherwise be thrown away, or can continue to use compostable bags.

One thing that has concerned me about putting food waste back into the soil is whether what I think is known as pathogenic bacteria could be poisoning our farming land? I haven’t read into it but a search of ‘anaerobic digestion and campylobacter’ returns some confusing results.

Maybe wavechange is able to digest it better?

Thanks for that Alfa. I had looked for that level of information on the Norfolk County Council website because they are the authority actually responsible for waste disposal and had not expected it to turn up on the Norwich City Council website as they are merely the waste collection authority.

It would seem that our compostable food waste bags used in the caddy are being extracted and mixed up with other polythene bags which, as Wavechange says, are not suitable for recycling. Two steps forward, one step backwards.

I supported the proposal for a unitary authority but the rival district councils and the county council resisted it leading to the continuing confusion over powers and responsibilities [together with the gravy train of people on both levels of local government plus the parish council as well in many cases].

Just about everything you read on recycling leaves you with so many doubts and more questions. How many of the reports we read are genuine information and how many are propaganda pushed by those with vested interests?

It just all goes to show an urgent need for standardisation with not just councils working together but the whole country making a joined-up effort together with honest, clear information.

Here’s how it’s done. Watch the anaerobic digester in action.

oxfordshire.gov.uk – Oxfordshire County Council – Food Waste

On my last visit to Waitrose fruit and veg section all plastic bags had been replaced with a choice of a brown paper bag OR a compostable bag with instructions to put it in with your food waste caddy and not your recycle bag. I used mine to line the caddy although a little smaller it didn’t quite fit but it was still able to serve its purpose.

Thanks, Beryl. Interesting video – best watched after lunch I feel.

I noticed on the Oxfordshire County Council website the following Q&A: Can I use plastic bags to line my food waste caddy? :: If you live in Oxford City, South Oxfordshire, Vale of White Horse and West Oxfordshire you can. If you live in Cherwell, you need to use compostable bags..

I wonder how many people actually comply with these inconsistent rules. Why don’t we just say “Use compostable bags” everywhere. They are universally available and I can’t believe there is any food waste disposal scheme that cannot process them. Giving the impression that any old plastic bag will do sets up another problem – how to dispose of contaminated undegradable bags.

Apologies John, my comment should have come with a pre lunch warning!

Putting food waste in plastic bags, I would assume, indicates it is destined for landfill rather than green recycle. In my area, people are not using their food waste caddies, so refuse collectors are sticking large notices on their grey non-recycle bins asking they refrain from depositing food waste in them and requesting they use their small green kitchen caddies instead.

Out council takes food waste separately and originally required compostable bags but then changed to accepting”ordinary” plastic bags. I assume they are separated out as their food waste is said to go to a digester.

Thanks for the link Beryl, Very interesting as John says.

A link to a Biogas map: http://www.biogas-info.co.uk/resources/biogas-map/

Wavechange do you have any comment on my post at 11:24 above?

Alfa – I do not know much about anaerobic digestion. Unlike wastewater and sewage plants that make use of oxygen, anaerobic digestion excludes oxygen and involves different bacteria including methanogenic bacteria that produce methane – the main component of natural gas.

As mentioned in the video suggested by Beryl, waste is pasteurised (heat treated) to kill pathogenic bacteria (the ones associated with disease). Pasteurisation will only kill vegetative (growing) bacteria but not spores, which can survive temperatures well in excess of 100°C. A potential problem is growth of Clostridium botulinum the spore-forming bacterium that produces an extremely potent toxin – the most serious form of food poisoning. This can only grow under strict anaerobic conditions and it is possible that the conditions of anaerobic digestion are not completely free of oxygen.

As far as I know, the Campylobacter species that cause food poisoning require very small amount of oxygen plus some carbon dioxide for growth. Fortunately, pasteurisation of the waste prior to digestion should have killed these bacteria.

It seems very unlikely that all the polythene bags that some householders use for food waste are recovered before digestion and if not, the product of anaerobic digestion will contain minced-up plastic.

Helen says:
4 July 2019

Yes. We are in Merthyr Council area. We have a small caddy for in the house which the council provide compostable bags for & a bigger bin for outside. It’s collected weekly. I cook from scratch so do have a lot of peelings etc. We have a touring caravan and some sites offer food waste recycling too. It’s a fab idea and saves the waste going to landfill.

Glasgow City Council has a small caddy for indoors, they supplied a small supply of compostable bags and these go into the garden waste bin, collected fortnightly. Some neighbours don’t want to buy their own bags so are either just using general waste bin or just putting them directly in with garden waste. I also know that East Dunbartonshire Council supply the bags free of charge with a system for householders to identify when they are needed of simply tying your last bag round the handle. Theirs is also a weekly collection of food only waste.

Carol Crann says:
4 July 2019

No – wish they did but Sheffield City Council are useless at most things

My biggest gripe is the corn-starch bags that degrade too quickly and leak in the few days they are used. Obviously paper is no good and plastic defeats the object. Something to live and put up with, so I do. Maybe two at a time would help but that seems wasteful.

Corn starch bags can leak or split. I don’t know if those on sale are any better than those provided by some councils. Unfortunately, many bags that are claimed to be biodegradable don’t live up to the claim so there is no good alternative.

Can you freeze your food waste until recycling day Vynor?

That’s a thought, though my freezer is often quite full of bread from a baked batch and ready meals from other mass cooking events. I think tea bags are the main culprits though other things deliquesce too. The caddy is a little large to stick in as it stands. It’s one of those little things that cause a shoulder shrug and a, maybe I’ll think about it, reaction. I’ve got plenty of those and that says something about life in general and mine in particular!

The usual recommendation is to squeeze teabags to remove most of the water. If I put wet stuff in the bag of food waste (e.g. debris from making fruit salad), that is promptly transferred to the brown bin outside.

Best to make tea in a ceramic teapot with tea leaves, though, in my view. Eliminates more waste packaging.

Wycombe District Council provide a small kitchen food waste bin and a larger one from which they collect the week’s waste. But where does it go? We should have a national organisation to distribute all food waste to regional centres where the methane gas produced can be turned into electricity, and the compost remaining returned to the land.

Huntingdon District Council provide a green wheelie bib for all plant material including food and garden waste. Once it has been processed it can be purchased as a bagged soil improver.

Our council offers compost produced from green waste, free of charge. The problem is that it might contain weedkillers and other gardening chemicals, and that can be a problem with commercial composts: https://conversation.which.co.uk/food-drink/compost-contaminated-weedkiller-herbicides-growing-plants-gardening-wrap/

Kay Martin says:
4 July 2019

Reigate & Banstead council provide this service.

Guildford council provides this service and collects every week.

Rob says:
5 July 2019

Yes, our council (East Devon) provides a food waste bin, but we don’t use it as all our food is eaten or put in the compost heap. Being vegetarian helps.

Belfast City Council supplies us with three bins, which are collected fortnightly – black for rubbish, brown for garden and food waste, and blue for recycling paper/card, plastic bottles, aluminium cans, tin cans. We are also supplied with a small food waste caddy for the house as well as caddy liners which are 100% biodegradable and compostable (7PO438) which go into the brown bin. Glass bottles have a dedicated large box which is collected fortnightly with the blue (recycling) bin.

I live in the borough of Croydon, which has a waste food bin collecting service. I the waste food bin for anything that I can not put into my two composting bins, such as bones, fish skin, tea bags and orange peel but nothing else as I do not throw any food away, ever, so the only things that go into the composting bins are apple cores, carrot and broccoli ends, cauliflower leaves and banana skins.
Overall the food waste collecting service works well except for the flat and/or maisonette blocks in my area where the current contractor appears to have lost the plot and collection can take weeks to happen but the flys, rats and foxes love it!