Turning Trash Into Fuel

Food Waste Dilemma

Food wasteManaging food waste has become a growing concern throughout the years. Instead of managing waste at its source, certain states have become notoriously known for exporting large amounts of waste to land-fill sites. Americans throw away around 50 million tons of food annually. US is the leader in food waste globally. 

  • 30% of crops harvested in the U.S are not accepted into food markets due to the high standards of consumer-driven quality selection.
  • 15% reduction in food wasted in the US can feed 25 million people annually.

More concerning is the means of its disposal. Wasted food is the single biggest occupant in American landfills. Still worse, instead of dealing with the problem locally, most states in the country, particularly the industrialized ones, prefer to move their trash to other states. To put things into perspective, Alabama received a permit that allows 19 million tons of food waste to be imported annually, five times its own. The steady source of income received by city councils and/or county commissions, throughout the state of Alabama, has brought statewide appeal towards importing food waste. Underdeveloped countries have also been treated as waste-sinks, as it gives these countries economical benefits, particularly in the form of cheap raw materials - but at a great cost to their environment and to the health of people who work at such facilities.

Many states across the U.S are starting to rethink what garbage is (in terms of its chemical composition) and how they can benefit from the ever increasing supply of food waste.  Energy from Waste seems to be the latest mantra. As exporting food waste continues to be a trans-national business, global efforts are being made to resolve this issue. In Herten, Germany, Lockheed Martin and Concord Blue have begun developing a bio-energy plant that is estimated to generate enough electricity to power 5,000 households and businesses. 

Taking Initiative

New Jersey has been listed as one of the top 10 states, which is taking bold initiatives towards establishing renewable energy. One of the best methods for food waste recycling and dealing with farm waste / sewage sludge is 'Anaerobic digestion' which involves harnessing biogas from decomposing compost. By simply grinding up food scraps, garbage can be recycled as an environmentally-friendly biofuel source. The recycled food waste can also be used as natural fertilizer. New Jersey and New York City, being the top waste-exporters in the country, have decided to adopt this new strategy for managing waste.

Anaerobic digestion is the process by which organic matter such as animal or food waste is broken down to produce biogas and biofertiliser. This process happens in the absence of oxygen in a sealed, oxygen-free tank called an anaerobic digester.

NYC’s independent budget office determined the annual cost of exporting food waste to be 75 million dollars, NYC has made a resolution to collect food waste from an additional 70,000 households. The waste collected will then be turned into compost and a resource for biofuel plants. New Jersey is also seeking to create a bill that will require businesses to recycle food waste in the form of compost.

The Impact

Bioenergy plantThe fact that bio-energy plants require air-sealed tanks in order to harness biofuel, means that these facilities do not leave a negative impact on the environment. Bio-energy plants can even make use of solid waste material such as timber, which otherwise would release harmful gasses on combustion. These facilities/plants are designed to heat various forms of solid waste to a specific temperature, thus fire is not produced in the process. In contrast, landfill sites release an extensive amount of methane, which has been deemed to be a more harmful green house gas than carbon dioxide.