Critical reflection on waste management class project

Last Updated: 04 Jul 2021
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Executive summary

In recent years, there has been a growing amount of pressure placed on universities with the United Kingdom to reduce the waste that they produce. This has been derived from two main sources one is the reduction, which is required by the new government waste reduction targets (DEFRA, 2012), and the other is from the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s (HEFCE) requirements to reduce carbon emissions, which are derived from waste (HEFCE, 2010). These two factors have meant that universities across the United Kingdom have had to seek to reduce the amount of waste that they dispose of to landfill sites.

This project has been undertaken to seek to investigate the ways through which bio-waste, which is derived from food sources may be reduced. To this end, my mission is to introduce a waste management system for food disposal, with the aim of lowering the University’s carbon emissions. This essay focuses on the cost of composting in relation to landfill sites. These shall be examined from three different perspectives, which are derived from environmental, social and economic considerations. Each of these shall be discussed and examined to seek to critically evaluate the options, which may be available to seek to redress the aforementioned issues.

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This project seeks to ascertain which options are most suitable to seek to reduce food waste, which is produced from a university site being sent to landfill. There are three main factors, which need to be considered in order to ensure that, this viable. The first of these are the economic considerations, the second are the environmental benefits, which may be derived from this, and the third are the social advantages to disposing of food waste. Each of these options shall be discussed and critically evaluated in turn. However, before this analysis is undertaken, a brief background to the reasons why this is so important shall be presented.

Food waste is an intrinsic part of the economy. It is, in effect, a result of economic activity produced by businesses, government and homes. The management of food waste has economic implications (DEFRA, 2012). A green economy is underpinned by maximal economic value and growth coupled with sustainable management of all natural assets (DEFRA, 2011).

The Government’s ‘Review of Waste Policy 2011’ aimed to deliver a ‘zero waste economy’. Over the last decade, significant advances were made to reduce the quantity of food-waste transport to landfill sites and increase the rate of more environmentally friendly methods (DEFRA, 2012).

Reducing bio-waste is an important target of the UK government. The ‘Waste Strategy 2007’ for England identifies food waste as a key aim, thereby reducing landfills for local authorities. The ‘Waste & Emissions Trading Act’, ‘Landfill Allowance Schemes’ and the ‘EC Landfill Directive’ include key objectives that encourage local authorities to utilise environmentally friendly means of processing food waste or face financial penalties (WRAP, 2009).

In line with each of these targets in April 2010, HEFCE announced that it expected all universities to have a carbon management plan in place by December 2010. This was to include how universities would seek to reduce their carbon emissions from all sources (including Scope 3 emissions included all sources of waste, which may arise from universities). Therefore, since this time many UK universities have sought to find ways through which they may reduce the waste, which they send to landfill sites (HEFCE, 2010).

In line with each of the requirements which have been highlighted above, my mission is to introduce a waste management system for food disposal. Therefore, the aim of this project is to seek to lower the University’s carbon emissions, which may arse through the disposal of food waste to landfill sites (see the poster and learning log). The objectives of my project are to:

Create an operation that allows us to process food waste into compost whilst maintaining green principles
Increase the involvement of staff and students, creating an awareness of the importance of implementing a food waste system
Implement a well maintained operation that manages food waste sustainably

This essay will focus on the cost of composting in relation to landfill sites, which can be placed into three categories: environmental, social and economic.

Environmental costs

Food waste provides a feeding ground for rodents and insects, harbouring diseases and parasites that are harmful to humans (Sharp, 2007). Food waste may contaminate surface water, soil, air and ecosystems (Rushton, 2003). Most notably, landfill, the most frequent method of disposal, produces significant GHGs (Bogner et al. 2008). The food degrades over a period of years, emitting methane, a CHG that is 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide (Shin et al. 2005). Therefore, from this we can start to ascertain that it is possible to reduce the amount of food waste that is sent to landfill sites as this waste is biodegradable.

Twenty million tonnes of CO2e emissions are generated from food waste every year. This equates to around 3% of the UK’s CHG emissions and 6% of its global water footprint (DEFRA, 2011b). Some food waste is not biodegradable such as teabags, bones and banana skins. However, it remains an essential principle to prevent this waste from being sent to landfill sites unnecessarily. Food waste should be treated in the most sustainable way, minimising GHG emissions and other environmental harm (DEFRA, 2011b).

Article 4 of ‘EU Waste Framework Directive’ outlines the five steps for dealing with waste, referred to as the ‘waste hierarchy’. Prevention, the best impact on the environment, is at the top of the hierarchy, then, in descending order, preparing for re-use, recycling, recovery and landfill (Directive 2008/98/EC) (see Figure 2.1).

Waste hierarchy (based on the EU Directive 2008/98/EC)

Segregated waste is the waste that has been removed from the normal waste stream for recycling, composting, anaerobic digestion or landfill. This waste includes both biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste (DEFRA, 2011b). Residual waste refers to the waste left following sorting or waste emanating from purely unsorted waste (such as black bag waste) (DEFRA, 2011b).

There are a number of advantages to collecting food waste separately from the refuse stream (WRAP, 2009b):

  • Improving recycling efficiency
  • Reducing waste disposal costs
  • Reducing the environmental harm linked with landfill
  • Reducing CHGs

However, despite each of these advantages implementing a food waste system within a university is a complex task. One must consider a number of drivers for example, how will students and staff react to the introduction of a new waste management system under the guise that it is environmentally beneficial, how often are waste collections required from different areas and how will this be managed to ensure that odours or other factors which may cause different forms of environmental harm do not arise from these operations. Of course, this does not mean that this is impossible, but a number of issues need to be considered, for example, does the cost of recycling this food waste out weigh the environmental benefits, which may be gained from diverting this from landfill. One must consider that there are a number of options, which could cause more harm to the environment and be less cost efficient. For example, if on site composting is to be used, how will this be managed, who will pay for the facilities required, where will the residual waste from the food disposed of be managed. Or if one was to pay refuse collector to dispose of this waste, would the number of the collections by vehicles increase the overall environmental effects of composting this food waste or not?

Therefore, implementing a food waste system, which is environmentally beneficial, is complex. However, if this is undertaken properly a number of environmental advantages may be realised. Each of the aforementioned factors need to be carefully considered and a number of calculations need to be performed to seek to ensure that emissions to air and water or land contamination do not arise through the implementation of a composting system. Therefore, the university needs to consider each of these factors before they decide whether this is an environmentally friendly way, through which waste, which arises from food, may be managed rather than sending it to landfill sites. In conjunction, with each of these considerations there are also a number of economic factors which need to be consider, these shall now be discussed and critically evaluated in more detail.

Economic costs

Food waste is excessively high in the UK; each year households in the UK waste over 8 million tonnes of food, which equates to a cost of ?12 billion (costing the average household ?480/year). A further 5 million tonnes are lost in the supply chain, costing ?5 billion annually (Chapagain & James, 2011). The National Health Service wasted ?26 million on food wastage alone (Ssentif, 2011). In a rare example, Cornwall primary care trust has implemented a sustainable food waste management program coupled with locally sourced food (Tudor et al. 2008).

By adopting prevention, the UK would save combined manufacturing and distribution costs of ?1588/tonne of waste (Lee & Willis, 2010) to its food supply chain. Based on that figure alone, it makes economic sense to avoid food wastage both for the private and public sectors. However, there are a number of factors, which need to be considered before the university decides whether they will be changing the ways in which they dispose of their food waste.The first of these is related to the potential means through which this new system will be implemented. Here there are two options to be considered, the first is siting a composting facility on site. The second of these is to pay a waste disposal contractor to dispose of the waste at their composting plant. The economic considerations, which need to be considered in regards to both of these options, are how much do they cost For example, does the university dispose of enough food waste to justify the initial costs of setting up a composting plant on their site Alternatively, is the amount of food waste that they generate a smaller amount, which could be cost effectively, collected by a waste contractor Once these questions have been answered, the considerations for each of these two options start to differ considerably.

In regards to the first of these options, one must consider whether it is economically viable to set up a composting facility on site, for example what are the potential savings that could be generated from not paying landfill tax and how soon will these be realised How much would it cost to set up a new waste management system in the universities halls and food outlets and around the campus How much will the plant cost to set up, manage and operate Do the costs of these enable a quick pay back, if for example this was done in conjunction with a biomass plant where waste could be used to generate electricity What would be the costs of siting this on the campus and how efficient would the plant need to be to achieve optimal savings. Would the advantages of the cost savings outweigh the disadvantages Could this be achieved in other ways, such as working with suppliers to seek to reduce the amount of waste, which is generatedEach of these needs to be carefully analysed before this option is chosen by the university.

Further to this, if a waste contractor were going to be employed by the university to take the waste away, a number of other factors would need to be considered. These are would the costs of sending this waste to a composting facility be cheaper than sending it to a landfill site. Most waste contractors work on a pay per weight basis and if most of the food waste is wet, this is heavy. Therefore, it may cost more per tonne of waste to send this to landfill than it would to a composting facility. Furthermore, other saving also need to be considered, for example would the university save more money if these were sent to any energy from waste plant How many collections would be required per week to seek to ensure that the waste was appropriately managed What would the costs of extra collections be when the university hosts functions such as, conferences or graduation week Each of these factors needs to be carefully considered. However, some have said that the costs linked with the implementation of food waste collection are negated by savings generated in the reduction of waste collection (ACR, 2009). This may not be true of all university sites as the cost efficiencies also depend on the size, location or layout of a campus, the number of food outlets or student halls on the campus and the number of students and anticipated volumes of waste that may be derived from foodstuffs. Therefore, one must carefully not only consider the environmental benefits, which are complex, but they must also seek to ensure that any new waste management system is economically sustainable in the longer term. The final factor, which needs to be considered by the university in regards to implementing a new waste management system to dispose of food waste, is the socially based.

Social costs

Food waste prevention is an area of waste prevention where there is little public resistance, with 90% of people being unopposed to the idea of reducing their food waste (WRAP, 2008). However, this does not mean that they are happy or willing to segregate their waste in practice. Encouraging both staff and students to properly segregate their food waste from other streams is a complex task. This is because each individual has their own values and beliefs and often though they say they believe in something, it does not mean that they will act in accordance with these. Therefore, one of the most important considerations that needs to be taken into account before changing over to a composting system is how are we going to get staff and students to segregate their waste How will we sell this idea to them Will we use economic, environmental or ethical arguments to seek to change their behaviours Each of these groups behaviours, values and attitudes need to be aligned to seek to successfully implement a new waste management system with a university. Therefore, this is one crucial factor, which needs to be carefully considered before any changes are implemented in practice and this costs money.

Further to this, other considerations arise from the publics feelings of the health risks associated with waste management highlight differences in understanding, education and underlying social values (Vrijheid et al. 2002). This is another challenge, which needs to be carefully considered before the new waste management system is implemented. Factors such as, the siting of waste receptacles or plant, how the waste is stored ore how often it is collected also need to be considered. This is because if they are not issues such as, complaints about odours, increased visits from pest e.g. foxes or rats, noise from the collection vehicles or the composting plant, the appearance of waste that has been insufficiently stored or left for too long could all cause serious social problems for the university or result in legal action being taken by the local authorities. Therefore, each of these factors needs to be carefully considered to seek to ensure that the risks of each of these problems arising are mitigated as much as possible.


Food waste is an intrinsic part of the economy. It is, in effect, a result of economic activity produced by businesses, government and homes. The management of this waste has economic implication. Reducing bio-waste is an important target of the UK government. The ‘Waste Strategy 2007’ for England identifies food waste as a key aim, thereby reducing landfills for local authorities. The ‘Waste & Emissions Trading Act’, ‘Landfill Allowance Schemes’ and the ‘EC Landfill Directive’ include key objectives that encourage local authorities to utilise environmentally friendly means of processing food waste or face financial penalties.

Our strategy uses ‘price penetration’ strategy. Our service will be of good quality, but initially would not stand out as superior against competing compost services. However, our initial service charges will be low to undercut any rival competitors, thereby penetrating the marketplace.

The evidence highlights the fact that a large percentage of local authorities in the UK are implementing food waste collections. Additionally, educating householders on their responsibility to the environment is critical in changing public attitudes to food waste.

Half of all landfill site complaints relate to their odours. There is, additionally, conflicting evidence on the health effects of living within proximity to a landfill site. Evidence suggests that living within proximity it may also negatively impact on house prices. However, the public’s normally positive behaviour, even in those aware of the positive impact, may change should a compost plant be constructed in their neighbourhood.


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