If you’ve used sales predictions and discounted food that’s nearing it’s sell-by date, but there’s still stacks of unsold sandwiches and cakes, then there’s only one thing for it: chuck it away.

Most councils offer a paid-for commercial waste collection,while there are plenty of smaller disposal companies around, but food waste will generally end up in landfill and it’s not a cheap option. New rules mean it now costs businesses £48 for each tonne of waste sent to landfill, which will rise by another £8 each year until April 2013.

In fact, Envirowise reckons the cost of producing waste can be between 4-10% of turnover for food and drink manufacturers, so maybe it’s time to think before you bin?

Most big waste management companies will conduct a free waste audit for you, but an increasingly high-profile alternative to landfill is anaerobic digestion (AD). This provides a source of renewable energy, since food waste is broken down to produce bio-gas, which can be used to generate electricity and heat; 90% of the electricity generated from AD is exported to the national grid, with the rest used to power AD plants. You’re left with organic fertiliser, which can be spread on land where wheat and oilseed rape is grown. So your old loaves end up making new ones.

Biogen Greenfinch takes waste from bakers, including Greggs, to one of its three plants and boasts that for every tonne of food waste sent to AD rather than landfill, 905kg of carbon emissions is saved. Simon Musther, head of commercial operations, says: "It’s cost-effective compared to other waste treatments and protects companies from the ongoing rise in landfill tax."

He believes AD will make even more financial sense as local authorities reduce their budgets and, at some point in the future, the government will legislate to ban organic waste going to landfill. "Companies need to look at alternatives now," he says.

Biogen Greenfinch provides bins, and can pick up from any sized retailer or manufacturer. It can separate packaging and can even cope with raw meat, which is currently banned in landfill.

The British Retail Consortium reports that it works out cheaper to separate food waste and send it for anaerobic digestion than sending it to landfill, but a spokesman says: "You need access to one of these services and chances are that a smaller retailer will just put the stuff in a bin, as they won’t have the volume to make it feasible."

However, there are alternatives which can be better for the environment and good for your conscience too. The Fare Share charity collects ’fit-for-purpose’ food from shops and manufacturers and redistributes it to vulnerable groups, such as homeless people, the elderly and children. It covers 60 cities and London boroughs and is becoming more recognised, according to CEO Tony Lowe. It charges for pick-ups, but insists that this is cheaper than destroying food waste. Adds Lowe: "It’s likely that the food will be used in a baker’s local neighbourhood, while eating the food will have less carbon impact than destroying it."

It takes food within date and can make pick-ups every day. "We might take a couple of trays of loaves if it were geographically sustainable but will negotiate some bigger companies deliver to our depots."

Baynes Bakery in Fife has been working with the charity for two years, which bakery general manager George MacKay says began when they decided to reduce what went into landfill. "We give them rolls or tea bread we produce large quantities, so it’s impossible to get figures exactly right every day. It’s a good thing to do, rather than throw food in the bin."

Top tips for reducing bakery waste

1. Buy and use only what you need and plan your deliveries, so you always have just enough to meet customer demand.
2. Store food and ingredients at the correct temperature to prolong their life.
3. Rather than throw away imperfect baked goods, sell them at a discount or break them up to use for customer tastings.
4. Reduce the cost of bakery products towards the end of the day.
5. Can you reuse any leftovers? Off-cuts or stale bread as long as it is still edible can be crumbed and toasted as part of a topping. Or turn them into bread and butter pudding.
6. If you have good-quality leftovers, particularly cakes or tarts, give them to a local charity or community group.
7. If you still have food waste, contact the local council to see if there is a local food waste collection scheme.
Source: WasteWatch