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Ripe For Recycling: Food Waste Can Be A Valuable Commodity

Food waste recycling is one of the most promising and environmentally beneficial opportunities for reuse.

North America generates more than 80 million tons of organic waste each year, including food waste and yard waste.  In the U.S. alone, the EPA estimates that 2/3 of all solid waste is organic waste.  And although nearly 66% of yard waste is diverted for recycling, only 2.5% of food waste is eventually recycled.

Finding a sustainable way to deal with all that discarded food is a mountainous problem.  But food waste can be a valuable commodity if processed properly.  The ability to capture value from discarded organic waste is necessary for the future sustainability of our country and our world.

One promising new technology for recapturing organic waste is anaerobic digestion.  This biochemical process produces methane-rich biogas, which can be converted into electricity and used to power manufacturing.

Anaerobic digesters are not a new idea, and in fact have been around for decades in the agricultural industry. Think traditional composting, but on a larger and faster scale.  Newer anaerobic digestion methods use technologies like fermentation, gasification, and chemical processes to hasten the break-down of organic material into energy that can be captured and effectively used.

Companies are just beginning to realize how effective––and profitable–– biogas technology can be.  Gills Onions, for example, turns discarded onion peels into juice that is processed into a biogas.  The biogas is then turned into electricity that Gills’ uses to run its Oxnard, California processing plant.  The company annually saves $400,000 by eliminating costs associated with hauling onion waste away from the plant to local farm fields for cultivation.  They also save an additional $700,000 per year in electricity costs, which has a direct effect on bottom-line production costs for the company.

Like traditional composting, large scale anaerobic digestion also produces by-products that can be used as soil amendments, usually after only a short time. This allows companies to sell off unused recovered material, lessening the cost outlaid for new technologies.  But unlike traditional composting, biogas technology can effectively process large amounts of food and yard waste quickly and effectively.

And the benefit doesn’t stop there.  Organic waste can also be effectively turned into bio-fuel, a product close in structure to gasoline, which can fuel vehicles without any modification.

For instance, a Texas-based company called Terrabon has developed a technology based on anaerobic digestion, that it uses to create a high-octane organic bio-fuel called MixAlco.   The gasoline produced through the MixAlco® technology is not ethanol, but a higher energy value product than ethanol that can be blended directly with gasoline produced from hydrocarbons.

All though there are seemingly mountains of regulations to plow through and even greater cost and technology issues to address for large scale recapture of organic material, there is still room for improvement in the handling of food waste.  Capturing of organic waste resources can have an important impact on the future of sustainability in our country as a whole.

Many municipalities are now requesting or requiring that organic material be diverted from traditional disposal facilities in order to meet their own community’s sustainability goals.  But to achieve long range sustainability goals, municipalities must also institute plans for the capture and processing of diverted organic material.

Seattle is one city that is doing just that.  The city plans to ban commercial food waste from the municipal waste stream completely, and has already began working with local companies and waste handlers to provide an adequate commercial food waste processing system before the ban goes into effect in 2014.

Organics recycling opportunities can provide a powerful financial and environmental catalyst for formulating new technologies to process food waste. By promoting the recapture of organic waste in our communities, we lessen the landfill load considerably and provide opportunities for a more sustainable future.

About Sebrina Zerkus Smith

Professional writer, foodie. Lupus survivor. Loves pugs, wine, days at the beach and good movies. Takes recycling seriously, but not much else. Sebrina Zerkus Smith is a Southern Gal that has been scratching the writer’s itch for nearly 30 years. Her career began in Washington, D.C., in 1987, fresh out of collage and full of ideals. While plying her trade by day on congressional reps and senators, at night she burned the candle writing features for local newspapers and national magazines. She quickly realized that her southern upbringing gave her a unique and humorous voice that resonated with her readers. Eventually, she moved to Los Angeles where she pursued her dream of becoming a novelist and screenwriter. She paid her bills by working as a freelance writer for major marketing projects from studios such as CBS, NBC and Disney. Realizing that the future of writing lay with the internet, she was bitten by the blogging bug back in the 90’s, back before it was even called “blogging.” Then it was still just writing and trying to make a living. Through those early blogging years, Sebrina found passion and purpose. Over the past 10 years she has written articles for clients such as LightCues.com, MatterMore.com, Greenopolis, MacAddict, Yahoo, CNN and more. Today, Sebrina writes about a variety of topics including the Southern Experience, sustainability, clean water, food, gardening, sleep and her obsession with pugs. She is a regular paid contributor to WildOats.com as well as other entities. She now lives in Houston with her husband Jeff and their pug Newton. She hopes one day to complete her opus, Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed.


One thought on “Ripe For Recycling: Food Waste Can Be A Valuable Commodity

  1. Oslo, Norway, digests humanure for methane gas production, runs city buses on this “free” domestically produced fuel. With all the Shiite in Washington D.C. I’m surprised nobody has found a way to harness it yet! Imagine the fuel potential of large American cities. Remember, this is “free” domestically produced, storable (in propane tanks) fuel. A top-soil building fertilizer from the remaining sludge, a domestic, “free” fertilizer can also be made. America loses top-soil every year and this is of great concern to scientists, could this sludge be one small part of the solution?
    Imagine! Clean lakes, rivers, streams seashores , restored to their original pristine beauty! Imagine, drinking water free from all traces of Prozac, and other medicines, free from harmful organisms. Imagine great fields of hemp, fertilized with humanure sludge, producing paper, building fibers, medicines, even clothing for humanity. Ezekiel 34:29 – Hemp, grows even on poor lands unfit for food crops, will certainly benefit from humanure fertilizers. Time for America to retreat, build America, not other countries, Buy safe, plutonium free, waste product benign after only 3 hundred years storage, Chinese LFTR reactors, to fill some of the energy gap, convert to high compression Euro-styled turbo diesels, a full 40% more efficient, proven by the laws of thermodynamics, stop “Big Oil” propaganda against this, and save America’s balance of trade by importing less foreign oil from the OPEC and Saudi parasite nations we keep in astounding luxury, as a tax on our every move. Many, small, deliberate conservation steps will help America out of its malaise, restore her glory. We must take these steps. now!

    Posted by Bruce Miller | July 21, 2011, 12:21 pm

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