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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/food-and-drink-waste-hierarchy-deal-with-surplus-and-waste/food-and-drink-waste-hierarchy-deal-with-surplus-and-waste
Apply the hierarchy
You should deal with food and drink surplus and waste using the hierarchy’s prioritised list of options. If you cannot use an option, move to the next one.
- Prevent surplus and waste in your business.
- Redistribute surplus food.
- Make animal feed from former food.
- Recycle your food waste - anaerobic digestion.
- Recycle your food waste - composting.
- Recycle your food waste - landspreading.
- Incinerate to generate energy.
- Incinerate without generating energy.
- Send to landfill or sewer.
Your decisions about food surplus and waste may depend on cost and facilities available. You should apply the actions in the order they are listed, but it may not always be possible to do so.
1. Prevent surplus and waste in your business
Use the tools from the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) to help you and your customers prevent or reduce food waste.
The WRAP website has information on waste prevention for:
- production and manufacturing
- the retail industry
- the hospitality and food service industry
- food businesses on how to take action to reduce consumer food waste
1.1 Develop your strategy to identify food surplus and waste
It is good practice to measure and record your food surplus and waste.
Find out how to consistently measure your food waste and surplus on the WRAP website.
1.2 Help your consumers to reduce waste
You can encourage consumers to reduce or prevent waste using ideas from the Love Food Hate Waste campaign.
1.3 ‘Use by’ and ‘best before’ labels
You must not use, sell or donate food after the ‘use by’ date. You must treat these items as waste.
You should consider treating these items using the following options in the order they’re listed:
- recycle them
- use them to generate energy
- send them to landfill or sewer
‘Best before’ dates are about food quality rather than safety.
If food has passed its ‘best before’ date, it’s not immediately unsafe, but may have started to lose its colour, flavour or texture.
You can sell these foods, redistribute them, or send them for animal feed as long as it’s safe to do so.
Read more about food labelling on the Food Standards Agency’s website.
2. Redistribute surplus food
You can redistribute surplus food to organisations such as charities, commercial redistributors and food banks.
Read about food redistribution and how Redistribution Partnerships work together to help you improve the way you handle surplus.
Following the Framework will make it easier for multiple organisations to work with each other.
You must only donate food that’s safe and fit for human consumption. Never donate food that’s past its ‘use-by’ date.
2.1 Create a surplus food supply plan
If you’re a manufacturer, you can use a surplus food supply plan, also known as a site assessment, to find ways to use or reduce waste in your manufacturing.
2.2 Bio material processing
You can prevent food waste by converting it into industrial products if it is technically feasible for your business to do so, such as:
- packaging material from fibres
- bioplastics from polylactic acid
- leather or feathers - for example, for pillows
- soaps, cosmetics from rendered fat, oil or grease
Biochemical processing does not include anaerobic digestion or production of bioethanol through fermentation.
3. Make animal feed from former food
Use government guidance on sending low-risk animal by-product foodstuffs to make farm animal feed.
It covers using certain animal by-products as long as they meet conditions.
You can use surplus bakery or confectionery products in animal feed if they do not contain and have not been in contact with meat, fish, or shellfish.
You must not make animal feed from food or catering waste from:
- kitchens which handle meat
- vegetarian kitchens which handle dairy products such as milk or eggs
- restaurants and commercial kitchens producing vegan food
- international catering waste
If you supply, use or handle animal feed, you must register your site with your local authority - usually the Trading Standards Officer.
You can also use:
- WRAP’s information and case studies on sending surplus food to animal feed
- UK Former Foodstuffs Processors Association (UKFFPA) guidance about former foodstuffs destined for animal feed
3.1 Former foodstuffs of animal origin - animal by-products
Your site manager must decide if a foodstuff containing products of animal origin is no longer intended for human consumption.
If they do, the former foodstuff becomes an animal by-product. They cannot reverse their decision.
Check if you need to send your animal by-products to an approved animal by-product plant.
4. Recycle your food waste - Anaerobic Digestion (AD) and composting: priority level 4 and 5
Read WRAP’s guidance on food waste recycling for your business.
Where possible, taking into account the feasibility and impact to do so, you should choose AD rather than composting for separately collected food waste.
Composting is normally best for garden waste or mixed food and garden waste.
Find out about:
- using animal by-products (ABPs) at compost and biogas sites
- using animal material in home, work or community compost heaps
- how you can recycle your food waste with AD on the National Non Food Crops Centre’s website
From a biogas plant (also known as an anaerobic digester) you can produce renewable energy and digestate.
Digestate is a type of organic material. You can use it as a fertiliser under waste regulatory controls or as a product if it meets End of Waste criteria.
See details of The Renewable Energy Association’s Biofertiliser Certfication Scheme (BCS) for information about achieving product status.
As long as you meet the rules that apply to digestate you can spread it on land rather than:
- using it to generate energy
- sending it to landfill
There are restrictions on spreading organic fertilisers on land which receives funding from some Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) schemes. This includes the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and Countryside Stewardship.
Find out about the rules that apply in the guide to cross compliance in England 2018.
To find an AD plant, that’s authorised to treat wastes, contact the Environment Agency or view the biogas map.
You can also check APHA’s list of AD plants which are approved for treating animal-derived food wastes and catering wastes.
If AD is not your best option after considering your food waste disposal circumstances, you can compost your food waste at an authorised composting facility.
Composting is usually best for gardening waste.
Contact the Environment Agency to find your nearest facility.
4.1 Recovering waste food and its packaging
You can recover waste food by decanting or unwrapping it and recycling the packaging.
The activity of depackaging is covered by a permit for anaerobic digestion or composting.
The T13: treating waste food exemption allows you to do this without an environmental permit if you comply with the conditions of the exemption.
6. Recycle your food waste - landspreading
If you have a landspreading permit, use the how to comply with your landspreading permit guidance.
7. Incinerate with energy recovery
If you cannot recycle food waste, you can send your food waste to be incinerated at an energy from waste (EfW) facility.
This will burn the food waste to generate electricity and heat.
8. Incinerate without energy recovery
Incineration without energy recovery is preferred to sending food waste to sewer or landfill due to environmental impacts and costs of treatment.
9. Send to sewer and landfill
This is the least preferred option for food waste. Find out about acceptance procedures and criteria for waste you’re sending to landfill.
Food waste collections
You can ask your waste collection service provider, or your local authority, if they can collect your food waste for recycling. You can also ask them for details of other collectors in your area.
You must check that anyone collecting your waste has a waste carrier, broker or dealer licence.
You must only pass your waste to, or have it collected by, an authorised person.
The site that receives your waste must also have an environmental permit or registered waste exemption.
You must use an APHA registered haulier to transport food waste that’s:
- an animal by-product
- catering waste
Guidance on applying the waste hierarchy
You should also read the Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) guidance on applying the waste hierarchy.