What happens to our food waste?

Sam visits a landfill site and is shocked to see how much food we waste and how quickly it mounts up

I've been monitoring my waste scrupulously for a week, and have made full use of the recipes that have been supplied on this facebook group, but I still have to chuck out peelings and some things inevitably escape the radar (most recently a half pot of Greek yoghurt, now mouldy).

Compost soothes the conscience

Now I want to know where this stuff ends up. At least half of it I can account for, since it winds up at the bottom of my garden in a compost pile that I'm rather proud of. For years now I've dutifully gathered up my green waste, added it to the mouldering heap behind my shed and dug it back into the soil. It makes me feel like I'm keyed into the rich cycle of nature, as it goes about its earthy, wholesome and musty business right before my eyes.

The food that disappears in black plastic bags - along with all the other non-recyclable nasties that pile up - is a different matter. Once it is collected from my wheelie bin, it could be disposed of by magic trash-eating trolls for all the connection I have with it.

Rubbush dumped

So I went to Ardley Fields near Bicester, a multi-million pound operation that deals with around 1500 tons of waste from Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire each year. Driving there, I was full of foreboding, expecting a stinking, blasted scar on the landscape that would make me think twice about ever throwing something in a bin again. But the reality was more complex.

True, there's something uniquely unsettling about watching truck after truck offload enough waste to fill a semi-detached house. True also, the four-wheel drive I was taken around in was equipped with an astonishing array of deodorisers and air fresheners. But although I was expecting to gag when I stepped outside, I've been in pubs that smelt worse. In fact, I was amused and entertained rather than disgusted.

Thanks Kes

There was a genuine fascination in watching the 55-ton waste compactor, an overgrown cross between a plough and a steam roller lumbering around on the surface of the tip. On my way up to the top of the waste pile, I was also introduced to the tip's birdman, who ensures scavenging seagulls stay away from all that tempting trash by scaring them with kestrels and hawks. Now there was an aspect of waste management I had never considered.


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