Food that gets sent to landfills is a huge missed opportunity. When food goes to the dump, you miss out on the many benefits of other food waste solutions, such as electricity generation, water conservation, and soil amendments (additions to soil that make it healthier).
For example, a study of 11 mining camps in Canada found that the amount of food landfilled by these camps could have generated enough electricity for around 2000 people for an entire year, if the food waste had been handled differently.
Innovations in food waste solutions are here to help us handle food waste differently – and reap the rewards. New methods and technologies are being developed to help organizations manage their food waste responsibly, and thus, reach economic and environmental goals.
Let’s take a look at some of these new developments in food waste management.
Innovations in Food Waste Management
Landfilling food waste has long been the norm. However, when food goes to the landfill, it creates problems, like loss of land space and increased methane emissions. To make matters worse, landfilling food waste forces us to miss out on the many benefits of composting, from healthier soil to energy production.
There are several new-to-the-scene technologies that help us make the most of our food waste. First, aerobic digesters are machines that accelerate the breakdown of organic waste in the presence of oxygen without negative environmental impacts. After bacteria decompose the waste, it is transformed into greywater that can be sent to municipal water treatment facilities. This simple process not only diverts methane emissions from landfills, but actually makes food waste management easier and less expensive for businesses and other organizations by providing on-site handling of waste.
Some new technologies enhance aerobic composting to make it an even more efficient process. For example, HotRot composting systems utilize a screw press integrated with a food sorting table in order to compress food waste to take up less space. To manage food waste using a HotRot sorting table, operators tip food onto the table to sort it. The sorting process provides the opportunity to remove any contamination that would otherwise disallow the food from being composted. Next, the “dewatering” process begins, in which the food is pressed to remove water from the food waste. This greatly reduces the total mass of the food waste, allowing more food to be placed in the aerobic digester at once!
Finally, anaerobic composting systems take food waste and process it without the presence of oxygen in a way that releases methane. While this mirrors the process of landfilling food, which contributes to global warming, these technologies capture methane and turn it into usable energy in the form of “biogas.” Additionally, some methods of anaerobic composting improve soil health, which is increasingly important as climate change makes agriculture more difficult.
New inventions like state-of-the-art digesters and dewatering systems represent an exciting opportunity to not only reduce our environmental impacts, but to take advantage of the power of food waste.
Unlocking the Full Potential of Food Waste
The technologies described above help us take advantage of the many benefits of food waste. Let’s explore the value of choosing food waste management alternatives to landfilling.
First are the obvious environmental benefits. When food is not eaten in time and goes to the landfill, all of the carbon dioxide emitted to produce and transport the food (known as “embodied CO2”) is wasted emissions. The study of 11 Canadian mining camps (7200 people) found that the landfilled food waste emitted over 220,000 kg of embodied CO2 per year. This is equivalent to the total amount of CO2 emitted by 2000 cars in an entire year! While it’s best to simply avoid buying more food than you can eat, the second best option is to make sure the food waste is used for something else. By finding ways to “re-utilize” food waste through new technologies, we can reduce the amount of CO2 emissions that are wasted on food that’s not used.
Additionally, when food is wasted, so is the water it took to grow it. To make matters worse, any water still left in the food waste sits in the landfill (or evaporates), rather than being processed and reused. The mining camp study estimates that 850,000 kg of food waste (a year’s worth of food for 7200 people) leads to around 750,000 liters of wasted water – enough drinking water for nearly 1 million people for a whole year. Water is a severely limited resource, especially as climate change worsens. By investing in technologies like aerobic digesters that help manage food waste and recycle the water contained within, we can begin to unlock the full potential of food waste.
Finally, food waste is valuable! There are plenty of ways food waste can be reused that bring about economic benefits. As discussed above, food waste can be processed to create energy like electricity, or can be used to create compost for soil amendment (adding healthy materials to soil like minerals or carbon). Soil amendments from compost help improve soil health, which can in turn help increase agricultural yields. Finally, food waste can even be reused as animal feed, giving the food a “second life” beyond its purpose as a meal for humans. When we send food to landfill, rather than reutilizing it through food waste technologies and systems, we miss out on the financial advantages food waste offers.
Ready to learn about even more benefits of food waste solutions? Learn more in What Is Food Waste Management?
An evaluation of mining camp food waste management practices in Canada – https://open.library.ubc.ca/soa/cIRcle/collections/ubctheses/24/items/1.0390325