Waitrose in pioneering energy trial

Waitrose has embarked on a pioneering renewable energy trial, which could transform the way that the British supermarket industry disposes of its waste.

The multiple has become the first major retailer to commit to a wide-spread trial of anaerobic digestion - a technology that produces biogas from organic material such as food waste and manure.

As part of the trial, biodegradable waste from five Waitrose branches in Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire will be collected by recycling experts Cawleys and taken to an anaerobic digestion plant in Bedford, owned and run by BIOGEN (UK) Ltd. At the plant, the waste will be converted into electricity, which will be fed into the national grid.

If successful, the scheme will be rolled out to other Waitrose stores nationwide.

Waitrose recycling & waste manager, Arthur Sayer said: "Waitrose is continually looking at ways of reducing its impact on the environment.

"Anaerobic digestion has been operating in other European countries, such as Germany for decades, so we thought it was well worth trying out on a commercial scale for our supermarkets. So far the signs are really positive - and this looks to be a sustainable way of eliminating the need to send waste food to landfill."

Jon Cawley, managing director of Cawley's said: "Waitrose has worked very hard with us to make the food recycling service work during the trial period and we are delighted to see the scheme operating in five stores.

"It shows that retailers can make positive environmental changes at all stages in the food chain, treating food waste management as seriously as food sourcing and creating a positive circle whereby food waste can be recycled back to fertiliser for the land in a process which produces renewable energy, and avoids sending waste to landfill where it can produce greenhouse gases."

Anaerobic digestion has double benefits for the food industry. It eliminates the cost of sending waste to landfill sites - a process which expends fossil fuels and releases methane gases into the atmosphere - and it produces a viable renewable energy.

The anaerobic digestion process wastes nothing along the way. The heat generated is continually reused during the anaerobic digestion process. Additionally, the residue left at the end of the procedure provides an odourless organic fertiliser for growing crops,

The electricity generated at the BIOGEN plant goes into the national grid and currently has the capacity to provide the power requirements of over 500 homes.