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A Solution to Leftovers

March 31, 2014 - My husband and I used to waste more food than we do now.  I frequently overbought, partly because I liked to make believe that we were big vegetable and fruit eaters.  All in the valiant effort to turn us into what we've never been and probably never will be (big vegetable and fruit eaters).  Ok, so we've closed that chapter after having made only modest gains.  And I do like to experiment, both with recipes I've previously made successfully, and with recipes being tried for the first time.  Somehow sticking with the same old same old week after week just isn't satisfying.  Neither, however, is an inedible meal, of which I've made a few (ahem).  So we've thrown out food which was at its peak when it came through the door, not so much on its way out.

But 40 percent??  You read that right: that's how much perfectly good food gets thrown out in the United States, week after month after year.  Can you guess how much money is being spent on all that uneaten food?  Probably not - I'd never have guessed the true figure, which is $165 billion.  Yes - billion-with-a-b.  Worse yet, that wasted food winds up in landfill, where it decomposes and creates 20 percent of all the methane emissions in the country.  (Not to mention all the hungry people who needlessly go without nutritious food.  While dumpster diving is a possible, partial solution, we need to do better.)

What if all that methane could be used to create electricity and heat?  What if the source of the methane never made the trip to landfill in the first place?  That's where things are headed, you know.  There are cities and states on both coasts that have banned food waste at landfills.  Enter the humble garbage disposal.  Sort of.  It's actually not so humble; it has a 2,000 gallon tank.  The scraps don't just get flushed "away," they fuel a food waste biodigester.  The maker is, however, a division of InSinkErator, in Racine, Wisconsin.  Grind2Energy has already installed two facilities, both of them in Ohio.  One is operating at Ohio State University, the other at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.

Both installations consist of a grinding station and a holding tank.  Instead of throwing away food scraps, cooks are disposing of leftovers in bins that are hauled to a grinding station.  The purpose of the station is to convert the leftovers into a slurry that is fed through pipes to a 2,000 gallon sealed holding tank.  This tank is regularly emptied, and the contents transported to a wastewater treatment plant - or other facility - equipped with an anaerobic digester.  Biogas is then captured for use as renewable energy, either to produce electricity or to power a vehicle.  Leftover solids are treated and used as fertilizer!

As more and more landfills prohibit dumping food waste, anaerobic digesters will be ready to put them to good use.  In Massachusetts, the supermarket chain Stop and Shop has garnered state approval for a waste-to-energy project at a distribution center.  Food waste from each store in the state will be shipped to the distribution center so that it can be processed and converted into energy.  While food waste should and must be reduced, the country's need for renewable energy can in part be satisfied with a resource that comes readily to hand.  Bring it!



With thanks to the Racine Journal Sentinel and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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