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Food bank has found green answer to a rotten question

Agrivert article group photo 13foodbank_jpg-pwrt2

From left, David Kay, Robin Aitken and Cathy Howard of Oxford Food Bank, Harry Waters, Agrivert director, and Andrew Simm, Agrivert manager at the anaerobic digestion plant near Yarnton. Picture: Ed Nix.

Oxford Mail 18th March 2015, by Callum Keown, Reporter covering West Oxford and Botley

WHAT can you do with half a tonne of food that’s gone off ?

For Oxford Food Bank, which often receives a lot of donations it simply cannot use, it’s a serious question. But now organic recycling company Agrivert has agreed to take the banks’ waste off its hands – free of charge – and convert it into electricity and fertiliser. A half tonne of spoiled food is now being recycled every week through the partnership, which has been running for a month.

Oxford Food Bank founder Robin Aitken said: “We strive hard to keep our waste to an absolute minimum, but each week some food inevitably has to be thrown away.

“The charities get as much as they want but, for example, if we get 100 bags of salad from our wholesalers with two days’ date left on them, you simply can’t get rid of that much salad in that time.

“Some of the food has actually spoiled, too. The food we pick up from our wholesalers is by definition at the end of its useful life and soft fruit, for example, can be mouldy when we get it.”

In a year, the amount of Oxford Food Bank waste processed at Agrivert’s Yarnton facility would have the equivalent greenhouse gas benefit of removing 49 cars from the road. That is the equivalent of enough renewable energy to power four houses.

Previously Oxford Food Bank, founded in 2009, gave all of its waste back to one of its many suppliers – they refused to say who – to dispose of at landfill sites. Mr Aitken admitted the group hadn’t given the practice much thought until earlier this year, when it decided the waste could be put to better use. He said: “We needed to find a better and more useful way of disposing of our waste. We thought it through and the food bank is all about sustainability. Taking it to Agrivert, where the bio-digestion plant turns it into electricity which can feed into the National Grid, is an ideal green solution for us.”

The facility takes a total of 50,000 tonnes of organic waste each year and produces 2.1 megawatts of renewable electricity and fertiliser used on nearby farm land.

Agrivert commercial director Harry Waters said: “We have been aware of the good work the Oxford Food Bank do for a while and when they came to us we said ‘yes absolutely’. They are in the same position as a lot of our customers – lots of the food they pick up will legally not be fit for consumption or will be unsafe. There is always going to be some food waste – we need to think about how we are recycling it.”

The company charges to take waste from its clients and the food bank’s half a tonne-a-week contribution would normally cost £100 a month.

The food bank – based in New Hinksey Lane – provides food for more than 60 charities, which then distribute it to thousands of people across the county.