The food use hierarchy
Food Use Hierarchy (adapted from WRAP UK)The seven tiers are grouped into three treatment categories:
- The green tiers which represent food not being wasted as waste is either prevented or the food reused.
- The yellow/orange tiers which represent the treatment of food waste either by recycling or by recovering energy from it.
- The final tier, the tip of the pyramid, which represents disposal.
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From Waste to Value: How to Tackle Food Waste
ReuseWaste prevention through reuse – redistributing or finding alternative uses within the food or feed chain. Supermarkets and wholesalers may donate mislabelled or damaged packaged foods, overstocks, test-market products, and short-dated foods to people in need through food banks and other charities. Food that’s not edible for humans should be used as animal feed when it’s safe to do so. It’s important to note however that leftovers or food scraps that contain or have come into contact with meat or meat products are banned from being reused as animal feed. Many viruses can survive for extended periods in meat and can cause severe diseases in livestock such as foot-and-mouth disease and swine fever. In recent years there’s been research and campaigns that support the claim that it’s safe to feed pigs and chickens with treated leftovers containing meat, however legislation remains unchanged.
RecyclingReprocessing food waste into valued raw materials or new products. Biological treatment recycles the nutritive value back into material that can be used to grow new food. The two most common biological treatment methods for food waste are anaerobic digestion and composting.
- Anaerobic digestion is the process by which microorganisms break down organic material into biogas with a high methane content which can be used to generate heat and power. The left-over digestate is a nutrient-rich solid or liquid which can be used as a soil improver or fertiliser.
- Composting is the process by which microorganisms break down organic material aerobically to produce a soil conditioner rich in nutrients which can be used instead of synthetic fertilisers. Composting requires space and is easy to do in rural and suburban areas, but less easy in cities where the vast majority of organic waste ends up in landfill.
RecoveryExtracting energy by incinerating a mixed waste stream consisting of food waste and other municipal wastes (a mass-burn). This produces energy in the form of electricity, heat or both.
DisposalDisposal of food waste without extracting any value is the lowest tier in the food use hierarchy. This includes waste incinerated without energy recovery, waste sent to landfill and waste products entering the sewerage system. Traditional landfill sites have caused serious public health issues in the past and have had detrimental environmental impacts including air pollution, methane emissions, and water pollution.
Towards a more sustainable food systemThe food use hierarchy is a key set of principles to follow in developing a more sustainable food system. A future-proof food system will also address how to use fewer resources in the production of our food in the first place. And food that was previously seen as waste will be seen to have value and used as a resource to feed back into the food system. You’ll find out more about this concept, known as the circular economy, in the next Step.
How can we apply the hierarchy in our everyday life?The first priority is to prevent waste. Food suitable for human consumption should be shared with people to make the best use of all the resources invested in that food.
- Shop wisely, store smartly and monitor expiry dates.
- Donate food to food banks, shelters, community fridges, family, or neighbours.
- Some local authorities offer collecting food waste from households for recycling . These schemes have a wide range of benefits including diverting biodegradable waste from landfill and reducing waste disposal costs. However, less than a half (48%) of all local authorities in England provide a food waste collection service. In contrast, Wales recycles more than 60% of its food waste thanks to a free food waste collection service provided by local authorities which covers 99% of all residents.
- Compost food at home or look in your local area for community groups running composting projects. Here’s a practical guide on how to deal with kitchen and garden waste through home composting.
From Waste to Value: How to Tackle Food Waste
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