A Tyneside company with a taste for innovation is to tackle the food waste issue which left many shocked this week.
Supermarket giant Tesco revealed it generated almost 30,000 tonnes of food waste in the first six months of 2013 – with the average family throwing away edibles worth £700 a year.
Now GAP Waste Management, a family-run firm based at Morston Quays industrial estate in Wallsend in North Tyneside, has won planning permission to turn food waste into biogas, which will be used to generate electricity.
The firm plans to set up its own electricity sub-station to supply lower cost power to other companies on the industrial estate, with any surplus being sold to the National Grid. Eventually GAP intends to set up its own electricity supply company.
The company expects initially to handle up to 24 tonnes of food waste a day – which would otherwise go to landfill – at the Wallsend site.
It will come from a variety of sources, from food producers and shops to schools, and will include out–of–date packaged items such as sandwiches and pies.
The company saw an opportunity when new regulations were introduced for the recycling of electrical items and now processes this waste stream for several North East councils.
“We have seen that there is also an opportunity with food waste, which is a big problem,” said company director Peter Moody.
“The amount of food which is thrown away is a crying shame but for us it is a resource from which we can generate green electricity.”
The Wallsend biogas plant will mean around a dozen new jobs at the firm, which has a workforce of 30.
The company envisages setting up further plants at other industrial estates in the region, and further afield.
“We could create hundreds of jobs in the area,” said Mr Moody.
The plant would also help food producers by cutting their waste disposal costs.
The firm, with partners H2 Energy, will use a system in which bacteria break down the food waste in 15 digester tanks, with the resulting biogas feeding into a combined heat and power plant.
The process will also produce a largely-liquid residue, which would be used as a high quality organic fertiliser for North East farmers.
Of the Tesco waste total, 21% was made up of fruit and vegetables and 41% of bakery items.
It also estimated that across the UK food industry as a whole, 68% of salad to be sold in bags was wasted - 35% of it thrown out by customers.