Waste not: a word from our sustainability officer

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If you do not waste food you will never go hungry – so the old saying ‘waste not, want not’ leads us believe. To many, this phrase conjures up images of queues outside grocers of wartime Britain and a by-gone era of thrift. While the phrase may feel out-dated, the philosophy of reducing waste is more relevant than ever and has been re-invigorated by a growing sustainability agenda. Meanwhile food waste continues to present problems worldwide; one-third of all produce in the world is not actually eaten according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (UN) and, shockingly, almost half is thrown away in the UK.

Bringing it a bit closer to home we can look at how much we waste in St Andrews. As a University we produce over 150 tonnes of food waste each year, and whilst this figure has been falling there is clearly more we can do. To find out more, I spoke to Alan Riddell, Catering Manager for the halls of residences across the University. He tells me the on-going challenges faced in increasing the choices for over 2,000 students: “It’s a delicate balance but we’re trying to reduce waste, improve our menus and provide good value for money.”

With these aims in mind, Mr Riddell talks through the process of how these meals are made: “Firstly all portion sizes are standardised throughout halls, but it proves difficult to always accurately predict how much food to cook on a day-to-day basis.” The difficulty lies in the fact there is not a tried and tested method to understand why meals are popular; often, unpredictable factors such as the weather, the previous nights’ activites and events or even peoples’ timetables make planning impossible. Inevitably this can lead to an increased amount of food waste, but there are steps that are being taken to tackle this, such as providing second helpings for students and staff after each meal.

Simple behavioural changes can also help to reduce waste, as Mr Riddell highlights when talking about vegetable and salad servings, which anyone can help themselves to. He says: “We want to encourage students to eat everything they put on their plates in the first place and to go for second helpings rather than taking larger portions which aren’t eaten and have to be disposed of.” At the University of Manchester they tackled this issue by requiring students to clear their own plates into food recycling bins to make it more obvious how much was being thrown away and to shift responsibility.

Here in St Andrews Transition have been running the CookSMARTER (Save Money and Reduce Time Energy and Resources) programme to provide training for sustainable and healthy cooking around catered halls to help change behaviours whilst also helping to improve recycling facilities with the roll-out of food waste caddies to residents in self-catered halls, including Albany Park.

Back in catered halls, Mr Riddell reminds me that the catering team are open to engaging with new ideas. For this semester’s Green Week extra vegetarian options were offered to provide more choice whilst considering the carbon footprint of the meal, in response the suggestions from various students. This setup is currently being reviewed to ensure that food waste does not increase as a result of greater menu choice and that the new menu is popular. But it shows that these issues are taken seriously.

Furthermore, it is becoming harder to throw away food waste to landfill, which makes the case for food waste reduction even stronger. In January 2014 the Scottish Government introduced legislation affecting all large businesses and organisations that requires them to dispose of their food waste separately from landfill. Alongside the University’s aims to send zero waste to landfill by 2020 as part of its sustainable development strategy, nearly all of the food waste from the University is transported to an anaerobic digester 25 miles away at Glenfarg (Perthshire) where it is converted into electricity.

Whilst this is a clever solution, it is clear that we need to reduce the amount of food wasted in the first instance; our current practices are unsustainable. There are simple things we can all do, such as more considerate meal planning, to foster a culture of ‘waste not’ into the future.

If you have any ideas for how food waste in your halls or the University then you can contact the Environment Team at environment@st-andrews.ac.uk.

Original article: http://www.thesaint-online.com/2015/11/waste-not-a-word-from-our-sustainability-officer/

Green Raisin Competition Huge Success

The Environment Team have partnered with outdoor adventure group Blown Away Experiences, to deliver a hugely successful Green Raisin Competition, which seeks to promote and reward environmentally-friendly behaviour amongst students.

Modern ‘raisin receipts’ have made a departure from traditional Latin parchment once given to academic children and have since gained a reputation for being oversized, unwanted items instead. This has become a problem when it comes to their disposal as they are hard to recycle and contribute to landfill waste.

To combat this waste, students are being encouraged to think about the environmental impact of their receipt and costume efforts. Now in its third year, the Green Raisin Competition encourages academic parents to design their children’s costumes and receipts so that they are made from 12122578_10207943469213463_2715722554013700019_nreused materials, which are light and easily recyclable.

Congratulations to this year’s winning entry which was both creative and gave consideration to its environmental impact. Their ‘dragon’ costume was made entirely of unwanted cardboard boxes gathered from shops around St Andrews, bed sheets from local charity shops and old bamboo canes from their garden. As a reward, the winning family were treated to a kayaking and SUP-ing (stand up paddle boarding) session, courtesy of Blown Away Experiences.

blown away prize croppedThese efforts to engage students with waste reduction were acknowledged at the Public Sector Sustainability Awards, where St Andrews were ‘Highly Commended’ in the Best Waste and Recycling category.

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End of term – what happens to all our “stuff”?

What happens to all our _stuff__

You’ve finished your exams, packed your bags, donated your unwanted items, and you’re ready to leave St Andrews for the summer…but what happens to all the “stuff” students donate?

Household items

10575351_1461008610848687_8140496115457494931_oFrom pots and pans to coathangers, stationery, and a wide variety of miscellaneous household goods, St AndRe-Use volunteers collect all these items from hall donation points and from STANDEN’s private residence collections. After some intensive sorting sessions (see above!), the cutlery and crockery is washed in hall dishwashers, then everything is boxed up and stored for the rest of the summer. Once students return in September, the items are taken along to the Freshers’ Week Big Green Fair where the thousands of items are given away for free to be used and enjoyed by another cohort of students!

Clothes

donateditemsDonations of clothes and accessories are collected by Frontline Fife, a local charity that provides services to help alleviate the effects of homelessness. Donated items are either passed directly onto those in need, or used to stock their Kirkcaldy-based boutique, “Re-Love It”, which raises funds for their projects.

Food

food_drive_cans_002_-_webAll donations of unopened, non-perishable food, toiletries, and cleaning products are collected and taken to St Andrews’ food bank, Storehouse, where they will be used to help local families in need.

Books

tumblr_n9iy64AQPN1sdo33qo3_500Whether it’s a novel or a course textbook, all books dropped off at donation points are collected by Barnardo’s and taken to be re-sold in their shop on Bell Street, raising funds to help transform the lives of some of the UK’s most vulnerable children.

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Click here for more information on what to do with your end of term waste.

Waste Hierarchy – “The 6 R’s”

Everyone knows that it’s a good idea to recycle, but did you know that recycling actually falls quite far down on the order of preference for managing waste?

This order of preference is commonly known as the waste hierarchy, as shown in the diagram below. This diagram clearly shows the different options for waste management (“the 6 R’s”), with the most favourable option (refusing waste) located at the top of the triangle, and the least favourable option (rot – sending waste to landfill) at the bottom.

So how can the 6R’s help you reduce the environmental impact of your waste?

Waste Hierarchy

REFUSE to buy things you don’t need, and refuse to buy products that come overly packaged (like a box inside a box, wrapped in plastic, in a box…you know the sort!), or that you know will have limited lifespan.

REDUCE the amount of goods that you do need. The idea is to consume less, which results in less waste produced. Look out for multi-purpose products, and buy in bulk where possible e.g. buy larger sizes of toiletries, washing detergent, non-perishable food (pasta, rice, lentils), etc.

REUSE items you no longer need. Get creative and try to find alternative uses for your items, (inspiration available here and here) or donate them to a charity shop. For larger items, such as furniture, large electricals, and bikes, call the National Reuse Phoneline who will collect your items for free and give them a new lease of life.

RECYCLE items you cannot reuse. Look up your local council’s recycling guidance to make sure you are clued up on what you can and cannot recycle (Fife’s recycling information is available here) to make sure you are recycling as much as you can! Find your nearest recycling point, and use the banks of recycling bins located in all university buildings when out and about. Remember you can also recycle your glass, batteries, printer cartridges, and waste electricals, with more information available on our website.

RECOVER energy from your food waste if you don’t use it in a composter at home. By separating your food waste from the rest of your waste, it can be collected and anaerobically digested to produce biofuels and other useful products. Find out what happens to your food waste in Fife here.

ROT – the least favoured option. The waste you cannot reuse, recycle, or recover energy from will be sent to landfill or incinerated.

Follow the 6 R’s and see how empty you can make your landfill waste bin…and as an added bonus, by having less stuff in it you won’t have to empty it as often!

How to Cut Your Christmas Waste

blog graphicThe holiday season is time for celebration, but these days it is often also a time of excess, with more and more food, presents, and decorations being bought every year. It is estimated that each person throws away an extra 50kg of waste at Christmas time, so we’ve come up with some tips on how you can reduce this waste…

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After the festive season is over, be sure to recycle your cards and wrapping paper. Try to avoid foil wrapping paper as this is much harder to recycle, and look out for cards and wrap made from recycled paper or FSC certified materials.

Alternatively, package your presents in decorative, re-usable boxes, bags, or fabric wraps, like these ones from Lush.

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At this time of year, people often receive gifts of new models of items they already own, such as cameras, televisions, hairdryers, MP3 players, mobile phones, and other electrical goods. Recycle the replaced goods by selling them, donating them to charity, or taking them to your local recycling centre.

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Fairy lightsfairylights

Using LED lights to decorate your home will not only reduce your energy use by up to 90% compared to traditional lights, but also save you money on your utility bills. Remember to turn the lights off before going to bed to avoid wasting energy.

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Ribbons and bows original_red-merry-christmas-ribbon-10-m

Ribbons and bows are often in perfect condition after a gift has been unwrapped. Stop them from ending up in landfill by saving them to reuse next year.

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 There will inevitably be lots of leftover food after you’ve enjoyed your Christmas dinner. Check out these recipes for tasty and imaginative ways to make the most of your leftovers, and reduce your food waste. Moroccan turkey salad or Christmas pudding trifle, anyone?

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Christmas decorations can be very expensive, so why not see what you can make from what you already have? Check out this page for suggestions, or if you want more ideas, a quick search on Pinterest produces thousands of results for DIY decorations!

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For more tips on how to cut your Christmas waste, check out last year’s blog post, and our green gift guide.

Images: fabric wrap present, electricals, ribbon, fairy lights, Moroccan turkey salad, DIY decoration

Get Ready for the End of Term

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Donate, sell, recycle…

For all those students out there with the May Dip just past and exams around the corner, it’s time to start preparing for the End of Term mayhem. It’s not always easy or feasible to bring all you belongings with you when you leave for the summer. That’s why we’ve come up with a handy guide to help you make the most of any items you wish to leave behind.

Please remember that you might be charged for items left behind in flats and halls of residence if they are not properly disposed of. It’s always best to reuse first, then resell, donate or, if beyond repair, recycle. Help us achieve Zero Waste by making sure nothing ends up in landfill that doesn’t have to!

End of Term (2)

If you’ve found this guide helpful please let us know by leaving a comment below.

Further links

StAndReuse http://transitionuniversityofstandrews.com/standre-use/

St Andrews Flea Market http://yourfleamarket.net/

Find your nearest recycling centre www.fifedirect.org.uk/wasteaware

University End of Term webpage http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/administration/recycling/recycling/howtorecycle/endofterm/

 

What Happens To Our Food Waste?

The environment team visits the anaerobic digestor that turns our food waste into biogas

“Like a stomach”… is how our guide, Alan, describes the anaerobic digestion process that is used to break down our food waste into biogas, liquid fertilizer and nutrient-rich compost.

Standing next to the tall, twin vessel AD (anaerobic digestion) plant operated by TEG in Glenfarg, on the border of Fife and Perth and Kinross councils, I listen as Alan elaborates. He explains how organic matter – our potato peelings and plate scrapings – are broken down by anaerobic bacteria under controlled temperatures in much the same way food is processed in our stomachs. If the AD plant is not ‘fed’ properly (eg, with food waste with too high a carbon content) the process will be disrupted. Yes, I get it, like a stomach!

It takes only 60 days for food waste to be processed in this way starting from the time of collection at recycling points across the University of St Andrews, to the electricity generated and sent straight to the grid by using the biogas to power a generator. With the anaerobic process monitored and controlled to produce a constant supply of 40-65% rich CH4 (methane) gas, which would otherwise have escaped from a landfill site if not recovered, our food waste is being utilised as a clean energy resource. Now that’s impressive!

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A view of the twin anaerobic digestors which are responsible for the natural break down of food waste and capture of biogas.

Here at the University we’ve been composting our raw (uncooked) food waste in a small in-vessel composter, affectionately known as “Hamish”, since 2007. Now, as of January 1st 2014, TEG’s AD plant processes the remaining food waste from our student catered halls, our retail outlets and delivered catering in special green collection bins. This is in line the with the Waste Scotland regulations that stipulate all businesses must recycle food waste produced, prepared or distributed in excess of 50 kg per week by catering units.

Recycle your food waste in these specially marked green bins. For full details of what can and cannot be recycled, please visit X.

Recycle your food waste in these specially marked green bins. For full details of what can and cannot be recycled, please visit our recycling webpages.

TEG’s massive twin-chambered AD plant is rather unique. Designed to collect a wide range of food waste  – including meat products – TEG was the 1st plant licensed for operation after the foot & mouth scandal which saw much stricter legislation come into effect in 2003. Since then, TEG has been well underway converting the food we chuck out into useful natural bi-products. These include nutrient rich compost and liquid fertiliser for use by local farms, as well as biogas for generating electricity.

We visited the site in early January to see exactly how an anaerobic digestion system works.

BinWaste AD in a nutshell diagram

A simplified version of the anaerobic digestion process.

The process begins when food waste is collected here in St Andrews by special food waste collection vehicles. The food waste then travels a mere 26 miles to TEG’s plant located in Glenfarg at the edge of Fife where it undergoes de-packaging and pre-treatment. This is when any unwanted plastic, metal, or other non-food materials are screened and sent through their own recycling systems. At this point, it is absolutely crucial that any non-food items are kept out of the AD process. Glass, cutlery and fabric clothe are notable offenders that can severely damage the pre-screening machinery – ever more reason to make sure we only dispose of food waste in the correct collection bins!

Rather than ending up in a Fife Council landfill near Ladybank, our food waste is transported to TEG's recycling facilities located just 26 miles away.

Rather than ending up in a Fife Council landfill near Ladybank, our food waste is transported to TEG’s recycling facilities located just 26 miles away.

After pre-screening is complete the food waste enters two large containers where the anaerobic digestion process occurs. In this oxygen-less environment, food waste is churned around in a digestive “soup”, where it is broken down by natural bacteria and releases gases that rise to the surface. These gases are then collected and stored in an expandable gas holder for later use as fuel for powering an electric generator.

The “soup” which is still inside the anaerobic containers is then pumped through a pasteurisation system and separated into dry and wet components. Dry components are mixed with garden waste and aged as nutrient-rich compost. Wet components are stored as liquid biofertiliser and sold to local farms as an alternative to petrochemical fertilisers.

In the end, the nutrient and calorific values of ordinary food waste is converted into three highly useful products without producing any further environmentally damaging outputs. No further pollution or un-used waste sent to landfill. Now that is worth being excited about! 

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Food waste is pre-screened before entering the anaerobic digestion system.

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Plastics are removed and sent to recycling facilities located just down the road.

After completion of the anaerobic digestion process, biogas is collected in an expandable container.

After completion of the anaerobic digestion process, biogas is collected in an expandable container.

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Liquid contents are separated and sold to local farmers as a liquid biofertiliser alternative to petrochemical fertilisers (seen here at the pumping station).

Dry matter can be seen here on it's way to maturation in a storage building where it will become high grade garden compost.

Dry matter can be seen here on it’s way to maturation in a storage building where it will become high grade garden compost.

A view of the nearby plastic, metal, and paper recycling facilities which sort and bale these resources for future use.

A view of the nearby plastic, metal, and paper recycling facilities which sort and bale these resources for future use.

It’s sobering to remember that this process all begins back home in our kitchens and halls of residence. We can improve this cycle of reusing food waste in a local, environmentally friendly way by following these 3 simple reminders.

  1. Think before you toss out uneaten food. Can this be used as leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch? Do I need to plan my portion sizes smaller?
  2. Plan before you shop. Don’t buy too much before you can reasonably eat it before the sell by date.
  3. Read directions. Please, please, please only put food waste into the food waste bins! Take a closer look at the instructions for what can and cannot be place in the bins, and ask if your uncertain.

For more information about reducing food waste and healthy cooking visit Love Food Hate Waste, Transition UOSA Cooksmarter and Fife Diet websites.

For more information relating to the recycling facilities provided at the University, please visit our waste and recycling pages.

Holiday Waste

Graphic showing holiday waste from the USA - in the UK we are only slightly better at reducing holiday waste

Graphic showing holiday waste from the USA – in the UK we are only slightly better at reducing holiday waste

The Footprint of Food

I’m getting really into the idea of sustainable food these days and have come across a fab blog by Monica from DeMontfort University which has some really interesting posts about sustainable food. 

Here’s one borrowed (with permission) from her blog for you to enjoy!

The facts and figures behind food are difficult to see. Often, we don’t know the exact origins of our food and maybe we don’t think about them every time we are doing our shopping. However, it is important not to ignore the sustainable or unsustainable nature of our food.

The carbon footprint of food is created by its production, transport and disposal. Therefore it’s not an easy calculation.

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The ‘virtuous’ circle of food from production to waste. Unfortunately it doesn’t always happen as the picture describes.

How can we tell what foods are sustainable when we compare them in grocery stores? What’s more sustainable: processed local food or unprocessed imported food? What has the least impact on the earth: products in thin plastic packaging or products in a paper box? The quick answer is trying as much as possible to buy food that is local, seasonal, and organic, and that doesn’t come in packaging. Here’s an example:

Locally sourced Sunday lunch

  • 1.5Kg of local lamb – 30Km by light van, carbon footprint – 0.072Kg
  • 1Kg of local potatoes – 30Km by light van, carbon footprint – 0.048Kg
  • 500g of local leeks – 30Km by light van, carbon footprint – 0.024Kg
  • 500g of local carrots – 30Km by light van, carbon footprint – 0.024Kg

Total distance to your plate 120Km, and 0.168Kg of carbon dioxide.

Supermarket Sunday lunch

  • 1.5Kg of New Zealand lamb – 32000Km by sea and 300Km by truck, carbon footprint – 0.858Kg
  • 1Kg of Potatoes – 300Km by HGV, carbon footprint – 0.048Kg
  • 200g of green beans from Kenya – 6800Km by air and 300Km by HGV, carbon footprint – 2.186Kg
  • 500g of carrots – 300Km by HGV,  carbon footprint – 0.024 Kg

Total distance to your plate 40000Km, and 3.12Kg of carbon dioxide.

If you add some fruit from South America and a bottle of Australian wine your food’s carbon footprint could easily exceed 5Kg of carbon dioxide.

5Kg of carbon emissions equates to driving an average (1800cc) petrol car for 25Km. Only for one dinner?!

Here a little infographic on the impact of tea and coffee on the environment. How many cup of coffee do you have in an average day!?

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And if you feel really keen to lessen even more the environmental impact of your food you can always grow your own food.

Further reading: