Is it good for the planet to collect food waste from Ipswich and the rest of Suffolk and drive it to Northamptonshire to be converted into "green" energy?

That is one of the concerns of an Ipswich councillor following discussions around new government rules. 

Local councils are facing bills likely to run into millions of pounds to make separate food collections - but they have no idea how many households will be prepared to use them.

New government rules are due to come in during 2026 saying that councils should offer kerbside collections of food waste to their residents.

This week Ipswich council's executive approved the purchase of seven new lorries to collect food waste from homes - and other local authorities are expected to follow suit.

Ipswich Star: Phil Smart (front) with members of the borough's waste collection teamPhil Smart (front) with members of the borough's waste collection team (Image: IBC)

But the borough's portfolio holder for the environment Phil Smart is very doubtful about the value of the scheme - and said government funding would not cover the cost of its introduction.

He is also chair of the Suffolk Waste Partnership and said he had great concerns: "The government is supporting councils to set up these schemes.

"But in Suffolk as a whole that amounts to about 68% of the cost and in Ipswich it's about 60% - so cash-strapped authorities are having to find the difference at a difficult time."

The government will effectively buy five of Ipswich's lorries, but the council will have to fund the other two - and then there is the cost of the containers that would need to be distributed around the town to consider.

What happens to the waste is also a major issue - at present food waste is put in black bins and taken to the incinerator at Blakenham where it is burned and turned into electricity.

If separated it could be taken to an anaerobic digestor which gets more energy out of the waste than the incinerator.

However the only anaerobic digestor in Suffolk is at Southwold and is too small for all the county's food waste. There may be capacity at a plant in Norfolk - but the nearest one that is known to be available is in Northamptonshire.

Mr Smart said anaerobic digestion may be more efficient than incineration at getting energy from food waste - but by the time you considered the energy used in driving diesel lorries up and down the A14 to Northamptonshire and back the benefits were not so clear.

And he also felt there were big questions about how popular food waste collection would be: "How many people will want to separate food waste into a separate bin, take it outside and leave it there until it is collected separately from other bins? 

"We have to plan for 100% take up - but that doesn't seem realistic at first."

And there was always the possibility of a government U-turn on the programme: "We could hear that the government is putting this off for several years, but to get the lorries and bins we need for 2026 we need to get the orders in now. 

"What happens if they turn around in a few years and say 'We're putting this off to 2028 or 9'?"