UK retailer Sainsbury's has unveiled ambitious plans to cut the amount of waste it sends to landfill by converting food waste into electricity that will be used to power its supermarket network.

The company currently sends 60,000 tonnes of food waste to landfill every year. The new scheme will see this waste diverted to anaerobic digester plants and converted into methane gas, which will be used to generate power.

Once functioning, the nationwide scheme will generate about 30 megawatts of electricity and supply a significant proportion of the retailer's total power needs.

At present, 38 of Sainsbury's 800 stores are sending food waste to anaerobic digester plants.

"We are not piloting or trialling the scheme, we are in the middle of changing the whole structure of how we deal with our waste... the overall target is to not send any food waste to landfill by the summer of next year," a spokesperson for the company told just-food today (3 November).

Meanwhile, some food waste will be used as fertiliser or, in a few examples, used to manufacture pet food.

Sainsbury's said it also intends to recycle all of the 20,000 tonnes of non-food waste it produces, including metals, plastics and paper.

The retailer is in negotiations with a number of potential partners with a view to constructing digestor plants, each of which costs up to GBP8m (US$12.9m) to build.

While Sainsbury's declined to comment on how much it is investing in the programme, the company did emphasise that while it currently spends GBP9m per year on waste disposal, this figure is likely to rise steeply. Landfill taxes are due to increase from current level of GBP30 per tonne to GBP38 per tonne next year and GBP46 per tonne by 2010.

As well as creating environmental benefits, Sainsbury's therefore hopes the scheme will drive efficiency savings.