By Scott Wright

A RENEWABLE energy entrepreneur has declared the Scottish Government must unlock further investment if local councils are to meet a ban on sending biodegradable waste to landfill.

With hundreds of thousands of tonnes of food waste continuing to be sent to landfill, ministers have pushed back the deadline for implementing the ban by four years to 2025.

But Robert Etherson, founder and partner of Energen Biogas, believes the general public is not sufficiently buying into recycling because of the Scottish Government’s failure to properly communicate the benefits.

And he said the landfill ban will not be met unless there is more investment in anaerobic digestion facilities.

Mr Etherson told The Herald ministers deserve credit for making Scotland the first part of the UK to make organic food collections mandatory, which means households and businesses must have separate collections for organic waste material. He acknowledged they backed the drive to boost the recycling of organic material with investment in anaerobic digestion plants, including his own Energen Biogas, and in collection vehicles for local authorities. It also backed the roll-out of food only waste collections. However, he claimed that investment has now dried up amid pressure on public finances.

Mr Etherson, whose firm operates an anaerobic digestion plant in Cumbernauld, said: “Scotland plc gives out money to local authorities, [and] they have got to budget. So a lot of local authorities have said they are going to start collecting co-mingled material, and not food-only. We can’t process co-mingled food, so it has to go a composting site, and then you have all that C02 going into the atmosphere and you have no renewable energy being produced.”

Mr Etherson said anaerobic digestion is the Scottish Government’s preferred way to recycle because it turns food waste into energy and is cheaper than composting. But he said too much is food waste is being sent to landfill, where the processing costs are significantly higher.

He said: “Landfill costs well in excess of £100 per tonne for the local authorities – anaerobic digestion costs well under £30 per tonne.”

Zero Waste Scotland, the government-funded body tasked with promoting the “circular economy”, did not say whether the funding for anaerobic digestion facilities has been cut.

Chief executive Iain Gulland said: “There is already significant capacity for dealing with our food waste in place. Now we need to focus on ensuring our unavoidable food waste is recycled to enable the anaerobic digestion and compost plants to perform to their capacity, as designed.

“Millions of pounds were invested in anaerobic digestion and in vessel composting (IVC) for food waste recycling in recent years. This significantly increased the capacity for food waste recycling in Scotland, which is still there and available for the public and industry to fully utilise.

“Progress is being made in reducing the volume of food waste we produce but what does need to go out has to be put in the food waste recycling bin so it can reach its full potential and have another life. Food going to landfill comes from people and industry not using the recycling facilities available to them.”

Mr Etherson said he would like to see a major public awareness campaign to help people understand more about food waste recycling. He said: “I’m fed up with Scotland plc not communicating with households. There would be more of a push if people knew it [waste] would be used to make renewable energy.”

The businessman, whose firm generates enough renewable electricity to power more than 5,500 homes, added: “This isn’t an AD operator sitting here saying, ‘this is unfair’. Our facility is as good as full. This is about what’s right for the environment.”

Zero Waste Scotland said its surveys signal households and businesses are sending more of their food waste for recycling. It said 158,500 tonnes of food waste was collected from households and businesses in 2017, up 47,000 tonnes since 2013, while noting that the percentage of householders stating that they recycled food waste went up from 26% in 2012 to 55% in 2017.

Mr Gulland said: “We have carried out a considerable amount of communications work over the course of this year, particularly through the launch of initiatives like the Food Waste Reduction Action Plan and the Scottish Government’s Enemy to Energy programme, to raise awareness of the need to recycle food waste but it is not something we can do alone. At present, more than 80 per cent of Scottish households have access to food waste recycling services and we need the support of the public and industry to make this work.

“We are aiming for only unavoidable food waste going to anaerobic digestion and composting with avoidable food waste being prevented completely.”