AN £8m North-East plant turning food waste into energy has officially opened.

Emerald Biogas, in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, is capable of converting 50,000 tonnes of discarded food into heat, power and fertiliser every year.

The firm's anaerobic digestion factory takes about 100 tonnes of food a week, which is used to help power about 2,000 homes.

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Bosses say it is the region's first commercial food waste plant, with its factory separating food from packaging to create electricity for the National Grid.

The company works with retailers Marks and Spencer and Lidl as well as North-East baker Greggs, SK Chilled Foods, which has bases in Middlesbrough and Wynyard, near Stockton, and Greencore, which has a plant in Consett, County Durham.

The plant started work in October, but was officially launched with the help of by broadcaster, journalist and author, Janet Street-Porter, who is a strong recycling campaigner.

Ms Street-Porter told The Northern Echo she hoped it would herald more projects to cut the amount of food waste sent to landfill.

She said: “I hate wind farms and I'm really about passionate about stopping them from ruining the North Pennines and the Yorkshire Dales.

“This plant is using the stuff that gets thrown away and turning it into energy, which is great.

“The amount that ends up in the bin is phenomenal, and its not just homeowners either, its producers, supermarkets and hospitals, and putting waste in landfill is dangerous.

“That's why something like this is obviously more beneficial, and the facility will bring a range of benefits to the North-East.

“In other regions across the UK, local authorities already collect food waste from residential areas, which is food for thought.

“I even remember listening to The Archers and there was objections to something like this on there, which shows how small-minded people can be about these projects.

“This is just the beginning for this plant and I hope it is a great success.”

Emerald is a partnership between food and recycling firm John Warren ABP, in Hamsterley, near Bishop Auckland, County Durham, and farming and land management company Agricore, run by Ian Bainbridge.

Bosses already have planning permission to expand the plant's capacity to increase work, with its fertiliser being sent to landowners within ten miles of the factory.

Antony Warren, Emerald Biogas director, said: “We are now up to about 90 per cent capacity and taking 100 tonnes a day.

“Food waste is a major concern for the North-East because 800,000 tonnes are generated every year.

“But our plant will take a leading role in developing a regional solution to this national problem.

“Emerald is just starting off, but John Warren has been operating for years and has worked with these renowned companies for years who really recognise the work we are doing.”