Eco-system converts food waste from stores to power for Co-operative Energy

Food waste from Midcounties Co-operative stores is set to power the homes of Co-operative Energy customers.

Food waste from Midcounties Co-operative stores is set to power the homes of Co-operative Energy customers.

The society is close to finalising a deal for an ambitious eco-system that will see a partnership between the society’s food stores, energy business and waste management specialist Biffa.

All food waste from Midcounties stores – about 800 tonnes a year – is already processed anaerobically at Biffa’s Poplars site in Cannock, Staffordshire. The methane produced is harnessed by Biffa and sold to suppliers. Some of this energy will be sold to Co-operative Energy.

Tom Hoines, Partnership Manager at Co-operative Energy, says: “The Society will reduce the amount of energy it uses and gets a share of the profits of selling the energy. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t do this for other companies.”

Meanwhile, Biffa’s recently-signed contract with the Co-operative Group means it will be able to divert all its food store waste from landfill by the end of July. The Group, which has one of the largest and most diverse food retail estates in the UK, will divert over 34,000 tonnes of waste per year through the scheme. Some 64 per cent will be food waste, most of which will be processed in Cannock.

Biffa manages waste contracts for many of the UK’s biggest retail co-operative societies, which include Anglia, Heart of England, East of England and Scotmid. “We’d like to work with Co-operative Energy on other contracts,” says Tom Seward of Biffa, account director for Midcounties and the Co-operative Group. “It’s a big opportunity for both of us. It’s a viable option, but because of tie-ins with current contracts, it’s a number of years away.”

Thanks to anaerobic digestion and compulsory recycling bins at all its sites, including offices, Midcounties is already seeing results in terms of waste reduction. One of its supermarkets achieved a 99 per cent recycling rate in 2012, an improvement of over 40 per cent on the previous year.

The Grove store cut its bin size from a skip to a domestic waste bin, and has been recycling at 100 per cent for five out of the last six months.

Midlands Co-operative, which works with Biogen Greenfinch on anaerobic digestion, is also ahead of the curve. Since June 2011, its foodstores stopped sending food waste or packaging to landfill and, in November 2011, its distribution centres followed suit.

East of England Co-operative, which is currently trialling anaerobic digestion, is selling renewable energy of a different kind. In its stores, customers can buy British charcoal and briquettes for open fires and burners from Suffolk-based Bridgebrooke Energy. The firm manufactures from recycled and sustainable materials sourced in the UK, in a factory which itself harnesses all its electricity and heat from a neighbouring anaerobic digester.

Biffa’s Tom Seward adds: “Co-operatives are ahead in waste minimisation and recycling. Lots of retailers make bold claims, but the Co-operative Group is actually doing what they are saying they will do. Where they’re doing it right is with a full ethical background and by ensuring it’s commercially viable

“Longer term we’ll be looking at additional waste streams within the backhaul model and trying to avoid anything going to landfill. We’ll be using the waste minimization hierarchy and looking at closed loop options as part of the circular economy. There are lots of ideas. We’re sharing best practice between all of the co-operative customers we work with. There’s a lot of co-operation.

“Biffa has been embracing co-operative principles,” he adds. “We’re having open conversations, and open book, and we’re facilitating co-operatives working with co-operatives. All partners are benefiting.”

Find out more how co-ops can benefit from the crunch on vital resources.

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