Page last updated at 00:49 GMT, Friday, 5 September 2008 01:49 UK

How food waste can power your home

From left, Tish, Alice, Ella and Hayden Hodson
The Hodsons say it is easy separating food waste from other rubbish

The government is considering building a host of new "biowaste" plants in towns and cities across England which turn food waste into energy.

It follows a number of successful schemes - one of which is in Ludlow, Shropshire.

But where should they be built, what about smells and does the idea really work?

Ludlow is famed for its food and at one time had more Michelin-starred restaurants than anywhere outside London.

But too much rotting fruit, half-eaten dinners and food past its use-by date was being thrown away by the town's inhabitants.

So the local council decided to take action and led a project to build an "anaerobic digester" in the town.

I think it would be good for other towns to have it... it's nice to think our waste is creating energy somewhere
Tish Hodson, Ludlow resident

Each household was given a blue bin and asked to put food waste, in compostable bags, into it for doorstep collections.

All kinds of food apart from liquids are suitable.

The anaerobic digester works by breaking down leftover food into compost and biogas, which can be burned to produce heat and electricity.

A year ago, when residents first began separating their potato peelings from plastics, many were shocked at the amount of food going to waste.

Food waste
Unwanted food is put into compostable green bags

So now more than 8,500 households are taking part in the scheme.

It has made some people think more carefully about what they buy and eat, says mother-of-three Tish Hodson, 38.

The freelance consultant, her husband Simon, 38, a GP, and their three children twins Alice and Ella, both nine, and Hayden, six, have all embraced the idea.

"[Separating food waste] is just part of everyday life now," she said.

"It feels wrong not to do it, like when you are on holiday and everything goes in the bin.

Bad smells

"There were a lot of people who said at the beginning it was a bit of a faff, but everyone in the town just seems to have got on with it now.

"There's no food we don't put in there. But things like cereal we have to sieve to stop liquid getting in.

"I think it would be good for other towns to have it. It's nice to think our waste is creating energy somewhere."

But the waste plant has attracted controversy.

When it first opened there were complaints about bad smells coming from the building.

Shredded food waste: Photo Greenfinch
A machine shreds the food waste as part of the process

Bill Jones, director of environment at South Shropshire District Council, said the problems causing the odours had now been dealt with.

"The feedback from the public in Ludlow has been very positive and many have said, 'I don't know why we didn't do this sooner'."

He said initial confusion about what waste could be included in the food bins had also been resolved.

"We're now collecting domestically from more than 8,500 properties. And we're going to be collecting as much food as possible from the food festival this weekend.

Less landfill space

"When [Defra minister Joan Ruddock] came recently she was looking at wheeling this out in other areas as well.

"Landfill space is reducing at an alarming rate. One of the things that is being looked at is having small plants in other towns so waste isn't transported for long distances."

Tractor spreading fertiliser: Photo Greenfinch
Much of the compost is given away to farmers to spread on crops

Sited in an industrial estate on the edge of town, only a faint odour seems to come from Ludlow's biowaste plant now.

From the outside it looks like a run-of-the-mill warehouse.

But inside waste is being shredded and processed into a slurry-like liquid, before being passed through a series of large tanks at the back of the building.

It is then separated into compost and gas. Farmers take much of the fertiliser while the biogas - 60% methane and 40% carbon dioxide - is burned.

Part of the electricity produced powers the centre, which is completely self-sufficient, while the rest goes into the national grid.

Greenfinch, the company which runs the plant, has agreed a deal with Marks and Spencer for the retail firm to buy all available surplus electricity.

And plans are also being developed to provide heating and power to a nearby eco-park.

A Defra spokesman said: "The Government is committed to making the most of the potential of anaerobic digestion.

"We wish to see a much greater uptake by local authorities, businesses and farmers.

"We are working with stakeholders to drive a faster growth in the use of this technology in a way that is both cost effective and beneficial to the environment."


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