Ecotricity claims that more than half of the homes in the UK are powered by suppliers that use by-products of the meat and dairy industries, such as pig slurry, dead fish and slaughterhouse waste, because energy providers are not currently required by regulator Ofgem to declare whether animal products are used in their fuel mix.
The firm’s founder, Dale Vince, said he hopes the move by Ecotricity will encourage greater transparency around fuel mixes across the renewable power industry and will urge Ofgem to make declaration rules stricter.
“For millions of Britons there’s a secret ingredient in their power as energy companies big, small, brown and green are using the by-products of factory farming to make electricity and gas,” Vince said.
“That’s not against the law, but it shouldn’t be a secret, any more than the ingredients in the food we buy should be secret.”
The firm, which claims its electricity generation has been “vegan for as long as it has been able”, has registered its supply with the Vegan Society as it strives to champion renewable generation. Ecotricity said in a statement that it would generate its vegan electricity using solar, wind and hydropower arrays, adding that it plans to start generating plant-based “green gas” from grass “as soon as possible”.
The company has called for energy suppliers to clearly label their power sources so that consumers can make informed choices, as more and more people move to reduce their meat and dairy consumption.
The company noted that while less than 1% of energy in the UK is made by non-vegan methods, Ecotricity is the first firm in the nation to receive a vegan certification.
The move from Ecotricity comes after the London Assembly declared that sending waste for incineration is one of the “least desirable forms” of waste management, following research which claimed that the amount of waste processed in this way in the UK has more than doubled in the past decade, reaching nearly two million tonnes in 2017.
Critics of Energy-from-Waste (EfW) claim that burning waste, such as animal by-products, takes materials out of the circular economy, releases carbon into the atmosphere, and may have negative health effects.
However, EfW facilities have historically been seen as a key way to bridge the UK’s waste management capacity gap and minimise the amount of waste sent to landfill. In fact, the use of anaerobic digestion to generate biogas is viewed as a tried-and-tested method to reduce methane emissions in the agriculture sector.
Similarly, anaerobic digestion is routinely viewed as a greener alternative to sending degradable waste to landfill - but has been criticised by food redistribution charities such as FareShare for preventing edible food from going to those in food poverty.
Responding to the news from Ecotricity, the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association's chief executive, Charlotte Morton, said that the Association "welcomes" the fact that the tarrif highlights how much waste is produced - but added that the process "makes the best of agricultural waste" rather than "causing it in the first place.
"We fully support the waste hierarchy and believe that as little waste as possible should be produced across all areas of society, including food waste and agriculture," Morton said.
"In an ideal world, there would be no need for our industry, but where these wastes are produced - and they are, in huge quantities - it's critical that they are recycled through anaerobic digestion – which gets by far the most out of them compared to other waste treatment technologies - into renewable energy and soil-restoring biofertiliser rather than left wasted and untreated to release climate-change-inducing methane into the atmosphere."