Manufacturers Northern Foods and Greencore, and high street baker Greggs, are the first food companies to agree to process their waste at a planned £69m renewable energy centre.

The plant, in Lincolnshire, will have the capacity to process 180,000 tonnes of food waste and packaging a year - and is believed to be the first of its kind anywhere in Europe.

EnCycle, the company behind the new facility, said it would use patented technology to turn the waste into clean gas, which will be fed into a series of conventional engines and used to generate electricity.

The plant is expected to produce around 24 mega watts of electricity for the national grid - enough to power 7,000 homes.

This is also more than Lincolnshire's total target for generating renewable energy.

Suppliers are under increasing pressure from customers to reduce their carbon footprint, but there are currently few environmentally friendly alternatives to landfill, said Peter Corris, director of EnCycle.

"The need for such centres is huge, as the demand for convenience foods continue to grow.

"This plant will represent a significant step forward in terms of how the United Kingdom disposes of its food waste and, importantly, displaces fossil fuel in the production of renewable energy.

"One thing that is especially unique is that there is no by-product to deal with. After the gas conversion stage there is a residual ash of around 2% to 5% of the original volume, which can be used in the construction industry. There is no need to landfill anything and the emissions from the plant will be negligible in comparison to other disposal routes."

EnCycle planned to build a further nine centres across the UK in the next five years, said Corris. As further centres opened, waste would be directed to the nearest centre.

The construction of the Lincolshire plant is expected to begin in the autumn.

"The environmental benefits of no landfill and reduced greenhouse gas emissions made possible by these centres will mean that food producers' carbon footprints will be dramatically impacted for the better," said Corris.