Waste management is not just about the direct costs associated with its disposal. Recycling waste food is a great example of where we can make a big difference to the environment.
COMER HOMES FAST FACTS
- Part of The Comer Group and based in the UK.
- Comer Homes is renowned for the high quality of its residential and commercial developments
- Main developments include projects in London, Hertfordshire, Dorset, and throughout the South East of England. Every site has a unique vision and style to produce developments of distinction
- Local and national regulations mandated environmentally friendly disposal of residential waste food generated by multi-family housing development of 338 apartments.
- Internal sustainability group ruled out in-sink food waste disposal in each apartment to reduce load on local wastewater treatment plant.
- Food waste was therefore destined for the landfill since no viable local food composting programme was available.
A modern housing development calls for a new approach to managing food waste
Royal Winchester House is a development of 338 apartments constructed on the site of 3M’s historic Winchester House in Bracknell, about 40 miles west of London. An iconic building in its day, with 21 stories and a bold monolithic look, the original Winchester House was a landmark for the area. After remaining derelict for some years, it was finally demolished in 2015. In its place, Comer Homes (in collaboration with architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill) conceived a new development that includes apartments and retail stores. Royal Winchester House was completed earlier this year and sits at the center of the £240m redevelopment of Bracknell town center.
Heading up the Comer House team for the project is Jack O’Brien. A master mason by trade and with experience restoring listed buildings, O’Brien is dedicated to ensuring Comer Homes’ developments exceed government-mandated standards for sustainability and efficiency.
“Waste management is not just about the direct costs associated with its disposal. At Comer Homes, we take a more holistic view to understand the burden it places on infrastructure, energy consumption, and carbon emissions,” says O’Brien. “I believe that we are on the brink of massive changes to this sector that go beyond considering just heating, cooling, and energy costs, and that means we must develop a complete picture of the environmental and financial impacts of a building. Recycling waste food is a great example of where we can make a big difference to the environment.”
Waste management at multi-unit residential apartment buildings is an expensive headache, and among the different waste streams created by occupants, waste food is a particular challenge. Residents in most multi-unit buildings are typically given two options: add waste food to their general garbage bin or use an in-sink waste disposal unit. From an environmental perspective, neither is a good solution. Organic waste that ends up in a landfill generates harmful methane (a greenhouse gas with 84 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide), while food added to the sewer through waste disposal units adds a significant load to wastewater treatment plants — again with greenhouse gas implications.
Reducing household food waste is a priority in the UK, which is a global leader in measuring food waste and supporting international food waste prevention projects. The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) works with Britain’s governments, businesses, and communities to deliver practical solutions to improve resource efficiency. WRAP’s Courtauld Commitment 2025 program brings together organizations across the food system to make food & drink production and consumption more sustainable. At its heart is a ten-year commitment to identify priorities, develop solutions, and implement changes to cut the carbon, water and waste associated with food & drink by at least one-fifth in 10 years.
At the local level, WRAP provides local authorities with information on the collection of household food waste as a means of diverting material from landfill or other residual waste treatment. Food waste management has been a hot potato at local city meetings, where council members have been held to account for the region’s poor appearance in UK recycling performance rankings. Despite the high startup costs for residential curbside pickup, local authorities have made progress toward offering residential waste food collection. It is planned for nearby Reading and is underway with West Berkshire Council, Wokingham Borough Council, and the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead. In June 2019, Wokingham Borough Council revealed it had already collected 1,000 tonnes of food waste since introducing the scheme in April, which picks up 23-litre curbside food waste containers and processes their contents at a local composting facility.
While Bracknell Forest Council does not currently offer residential waste food pickup, it is a topic of considerable interest at council meetings. However, for the short term, Bracknell is not offering waste food pickup to its residents, which meant Royal Winchester House food waste was destined for the landfill. O’Brien’s design team was eager to find a completely sustainable approach to waste food management that would lower the overall carbon footprint of the Bracknell development and reduce the burden on local landfills. They therefore quickly ruled out in-sink waste disposal machines.
“While waste disposal units would divert organic waste from the local tipping sites, they added costly complications to the mechanical and electrical network in the building,” remarks O’Brien. “In addition to the costs of acquisition and installation, a regular maintenance plan would need to be implemented. Further, there are costs associated with misuse and damage to the individual units and the building infrastructure. Instead, we decided to look for a long-term solution that would also support our sustainability goals.”
A path to eliminating food from the waste stream
Instead of installing food disposal machines in each apartment, the design team explored the concept of centralized food and organic waste collection. If the food waste could be diverted from the landfill and recycled locally, this would address Comer’s sustainability objectives. To avoid the cost of transportation to distant municipal composting facilities, O’Brien and his team developed an approach that would process all waste food onsite. This resulted in a residential recycling plan consisting of color-coded waste caddies for each apartment, a communal waste collection point, and two Power Knot LFC® biodigesters. The LFC biodigester is a practical alternative to municipal waste food recycling. It employs a series of natural processes by which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the presence of oxygen. The LFC environment accelerates the digestion of most food products within 24 hours by using a proprietary mixture of microbes and enzymes.
The two stainless steel LFC biodigesters installed in the concierge area of the Royal Winchester House reduce the expense, inconvenience, and mess of storing residential waste food by completely digesting residents’ waste food—continually. Almost all waste food from the apartments, including fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, cheese, bread, rice, and pasta can go into the LFC biodigester, and the machine can compost both raw and cooked foods.
Residents bring their caddies down to the communal concierge area, where they are emptied into the LFC biodigester, in exchange for clean caddies. Each of the LFC biodigesters silently and hygienically processes up to 400 kg (900 lb) of waste food per day, transforming it into grey water that is then sent to the local wastewater treatment facilities. A screen inside each unit ensures that it conforms with local wastewater discharge regulations. Each LFC biodigester reports the amount of waste ingested on a touch screen and sends that data to the cloud. Detailed information about usage and other statistics can be accessed anywhere on any device and enables the sustainability team to monitor waste outputs, performance, and how much greenhouse gas has been negated.
“Comer Homes is among the more visionary property developers with whom we’ve worked, and it’s a delight to see their vision for zero organic waste come alive at Royal Winchester House,” says Iain Milnes, president of Power Knot. “We look forward to working with the Comer Homes team on future developments—both residential and commercial.”