Supermarket chain Waitrose is claiming that it has achieved its aim of sending zero food waste to landfill from all of its 280 stores.

It says that initially it set itself the goal of achieving this by the end of 2012, but managed to do so three months ahead of schedule.

All of its food waste that is unfit for consumption is sent to anaerobic digestion (AD) plants, by an arrangement with Cawleys, a Luton-based resource management company.

In July, the chain, part of the John Lewis Partnership (JLP), also announced that its branches will donate surplus food within their communities.

Food waste is also reduced through tactics such as using damaged fruit and vegetables in its partner dining rooms, and promoting weather-damaged produce to its customers in support of British farmers, who have suffered a drop in output because of the high rainfall over the summer.

Cawleys was the first waste management company in Britain to offer a commercial food waste recycling service using AD.

AD is by far the preferred destination for organic waste, as the composting process produces fertiliser, natural gas and heat, as well as creating jobs. It is favoured by the new environment secretary, Owen Paterson.

Waitrose recycling and waste manager, Mike Walters, said: “Of course it’s not in our interest to produce any food waste at all, which is why we work hard to minimise it in the first instance.

"Inevitably we generate some surplus food, and where it is not fit to be donated to the local community, AD has proven to be a sustainable way of eliminating the need to send it to landfill, reducing our impact on the environment and creating renewable energy along the way.”

Cawleys sales director Tony Goodman commented: “With an increasing number of AD plants available to companies even more food waste can be diverted from landfill, a sustainable as well as cost-effective decision that more companies should be taking in the future.”

Cawleys uses anaerobic digestion technology developed by BiogenGreenfinch. Other companies using this service include restaurants, such as Smiths of Smithfields, hotels, including Luton Hoo, part of the Elite Group, and commercial caterers.

Each business collects its food waste in biodegradable corn starch bags, which are placed in 360 litre bins. Collections, which can be made seven days a week, are tailored to individual customer needs. They can vary from a one bin per day collection, if space is limited, to multi-bin weekly collections.

The digestate produced by AD has a number of advantages over slurry. For example, nitrogen is present for plants in a more readily available form, and the product has a lower viscosity, making it easier to spread.

BiogenGreenfinch has worked closely with WRAP on the development of the new PAS110 standard for quality digestate and the associated Quality Protocol.

Kate Cawley, business development manager of Cawleys, said: “The face of commercial recycling is changing in line with rising landfill costs, new legislation and a growing desire among many organisations to enhance their ‘green’ credentials".

John Ibbett, chairman of BiogenGreenfinch, said: “Most of the UK’s food waste currently goes to landfill, but this situation is changing in both the private and commercial sectors, where regular collections are expected to become the norm in the future".

Story: David Thorpe, News Editor