There is a large opportunity for increasing food waste recycling in the US.
- Since 2010, the U.S. has produced over 34 million tons of food waste each year. However, less than 3% of this waste is diverted for beneficial purposes, such as reuse in animal feed, recycling, or composting (see source by the U.S. EPA).
- That means there is still an opportunity to divert over 32 million tons of food waste each year.
- If 50% of this food waste were diverted from landfills to anaerobic digesters, that could generate enough power to serve more than 2, 500, 000 homes annually.
There are many factors to consider when selecting a waste outlet for organics.
- The EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture provide a standard hierarchy of diversion options they recommend following when choosing food waste recycling options (see example below).
- In our experience handling organic waste streams from various manufacturing and distribution companies, we have found that additional factors play into determining which recycling method is best. These include things like the composition of a specific organic waste stream, its contamination levels, the location where the waste stream is being produced and its proximity to different recycling outlets (which would affect shipping requirements), and whether or not the material is packaged prior to disposal.
- Anaerobic digesters are best for handling organic waste streams with high moisture content. Therefore, these outlets tend to accept food waste as over 50% of their organic waste stream. In contrast, standard compost outlets (i.e. turned windrows) may prefer keeping food waste as only 30 or 40% of their total organic stream.
- Different recycling processes also require different amounts of time. For instance, standard composting might take 8-16 weeks while anaerobic digestion typically takes less than 4 weeks. This affects how much and what types of materials an outlet can accept at any given time.
- Companies should consult their recycling service provider for recommendations on the best outlet(s) for their organic waste stream(s).
Food waste recycling is good for the environment.
- Beyond keeping materials out of the landfill, food waste recycling helps control methane production and returns nutrients to the environment.
- Using compost for agricultural crops is proven to promote higher yields and increase moisture retention (thereby reducing the amount of water needed to raise a crop).
- Compost also suppresses plant diseases, reduces pests, and helps remove solids, oil, grease, heavy metals, and other harmful substances from storm water runoff.
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