Trends in Food Waste Management

Food waste is an untapped energy source that mostly ends up rotting in landfills, thereby releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Food waste is difficult to treat or recycle since it contains high levels of sodium salt and moisture, and is mixed with other waste during collection. Major generators of food wastes include hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, residential blocks, cafeterias, airline caterers, food processing industries, etc.

In United States, food waste is the third largest waste stream after paper and yard waste. Around 12.7 percent of the total municipal solid waste (MSW) generated in the year 2008 was food scraps that amounted to about 32 million tons. According to EPA, about 31 million tons of food waste was thrown away into landfills or incinerators in 2008. As far as United Kingdom is concerned, households throw away 8.3 million tons of food each year. These statistics are an indication of tremendous amount of food waste generated all over the world.

The proportion of food waste in municipal waste stream is gradually increasing and hence a proper food waste management strategy needs to be devised to ensure its eco-friendly and sustainable disposal. Food waste can be recycled via:

  • In-vessel composting (IVC): A treatment that breaks down biodegradable waste by naturally occurring micro-organisms with oxygen, in an enclosed vessel or tunnel;
  • Anaerobic digestion (AD): A treatment that breaks down biodegradable waste in the absence of oxygen, producing a renewable energy (biogas) that can be used to generate electricity and heat.

Currently, only about 3 percent of food waste is recycled throughout U.S., mainly through composting. Composting provides an alternative to landfill disposal of food waste, however it requires large areas of land, produces volatile organic compounds and consumes energy. Consequently, there is an urgent need to explore better recycling alternatives. Anaerobic digestion has been successfully used in several European and Asian countries to stabilize food wastes, and to provide beneficial end-products. Sweden, Austria, Denmark, Germany and England have led the way in developing new advanced biogas technologies and setting up new projects for conversion of food waste into energy.

Of the different types of organic wastes available, food waste holds the highest potential in terms of economic exploitation as it contains high amount of carbon and can be efficiently converted into biogas and organic fertilizer. Food waste can either be used as a single substrate in a biogas plant, or can be co-digested with organic wastes like cow manure, poultry litter, sewage, crop residues, abattoir wastes, etc.

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Composting Guidelines

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It seems everyone is concerned about the environment and trying to reduce their “carbon footprint”.  I hope this trend will continue and grow as a nationwide way to live and not turn into a fad.  Composting has been around for MANY years.  Composting is a great way to keep biodegradables out of the landfill and to reap the reward of some fabulous “black gold”.  That’s what master gardeners call compost and it’s great for improving your soil.  Plants love it.  Check out 10 Rules to Remember About Composting.

  1. Layer your compost bin with dry and fresh ingredients: The best way to start a compost pile is to make yourself a bin either with wood or chicken wire.  Layering fresh grass clippings and dried leaves is a great start.
  2. Remember to turn your compost pile: As the ingredients in your compost pile start to biodegrade they will start to get hot.  To avoid your compost pile rotting and stinking you need to turn the pile to aerate it.  This addition of air into the pile will speed up the decomposition.
  3. Add water to your compost pile: Adding water will also speed up the process of scraps turning into compost.  Don’t add too much water, but if you haven’t gotten any rain in a while it’s a good idea to add some water to the pile just to encourage it along.
  4. Don’t add meat scraps to your pile: Vegetable scraps are okay to add to your compost pile, but don’t add meat scraps.  Not only do they stink as they rot, but they will attract unwanted guests like raccoons that will get into your compost bin and make a mess of it.
  5. If possible have more than one pile going: Since it takes time for raw materials to turn into compost you may want to have multiple piles going at the same time.  Once you fill up the first bin start a second one and so on.  That way you can allow the ingredient in the first pile to completely transform into compost and still have a place to keep putting your new scraps and clippings.  This also allows you to always keep a supply of compost coming for different planting seasons.
  6. Never put trash in your compost pile: Just because something says that it is recyclable it doesn’t mean that it should necessarily go into the compost bin.  For example, newspapers will compost and can be put into a compost pile, but you will want to shred the newspapers and not just toss them in the bin in a stack.  Things like plastic and tin should not be put into a compost pile, but can be recycled in other ways.
  7. Allow your compost to complete the composting process before using: It might be tempting to use your new compost in your beds as soon as it starts looking like black soil, but you need to make sure that it’s completely done composting otherwise you could be adding weed seeds into your beds and you will not be happy with the extra weeds that will pop up.
  8. Straw can be added if dried leaves are not available: Dried materials as well as green materials need to be added to a compost bin.  In the Fall you will have a huge supply of dried leaves, but what do you do if you don’t have any dried leaves?  Add straw or hay to the compost bin, but again these will often contain weed seeds so be careful to make sure they are completely composted before using them.
  9. Egg Shells and Coffee grounds are a great addition: Not only potato skins are considered kitchen scraps.  Eggshells and coffee grounds are great additions to compost piles because they add nutrients that will enhance the quality of the end product.
  10. Never put pet droppings in your compost pile: I’m sure you’ve heard that manure is great for your garden, but cow manure is cured for quite a while before used in a garden.  Pet droppings are far to hot and acidic for a home compost pile and will just make it stink.

Contributed by Roxanne Porter whose original blogpost can be viewed at http://www.nannypro.com/blog/10-rules-to-remember-about-composting/

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Significance of Anaerobic Digestion of Food Waste

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Anaerobic digestion is the most important method for the treatment of organic waste because of its techno-economic viability and environmental sustainability. The use of anaerobic digestion technology generates biogas and preserves the nutrients which are recycled back to the agricultural land in the form of slurry or solid fertilizer. The relevance of biogas technology lies in the fact that it makes the best possible utilization of various organic wastes as a renewable source of clean energy. A biogas plant is a decentralized energy system, which can lead to self-sufficiency in heat and power needs, and at the same time reduces environmental pollution. Thus, anaerobic digestion of food waste can lead to climate change mitigation, economic benefits and landfill diversion opportunities.

Of the different types of organic wastes available, food waste holds the highest potential in terms of economic exploitation as it contains high amount of carbon and can be efficiently converted into biogas and organic fertilizer. Food waste can either be utilized as a single substrate in a biogas plant, or can be co-digested with organic wastes like cow manure, poultry litter, sewage, crop residues, abattoir wastes etc.

Food waste is one of the single largest constituent of municipal solid waste stream.  Diversion of food waste from landfills can provide significant contribution towards climate change mitigation, apart from generating revenues and creating employment opportunities. Rising energy prices and increasing environmental pollution makes it more important to harness renewable energy from food wastes. Anaerobic digestion technology is widely available worldwide and successful projects are already in place in several European as well as Asian countries which makes it imperative on waste generators and environmental agencies to root for a sustainable food waste management system.

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Food Waste-to-Energy

The waste management hierarchy suggests that reduce, reuse and recycling should always be given preference in a typical waste management system. However, these options cannot be applied uniformly for all kinds of wastes. For examples, organic waste is quite difficult to deal with using the conventional 3R strategy.  Of the different types of organic wastes available, food waste holds the highest potential in terms of economic exploitation as it contains high amount of carbon and can be efficiently converted into biogas and organic fertilizer.

There are numerous places which are the sources of large amounts of food waste and hence a proper food-waste management strategy needs to be devised for them to make sure that either they are disposed off in a safe manner or utilized efficiently. These places include hotels, restaurants, malls, residential societies, college/school/office canteens, religious mass cooking places, airline caterers, food and meat processing industries and vegetable markets which generate organic waste of considerable quantum on a daily basis.

The anaerobic digestion technology is highly apt in dealing with the chronic problem of organic waste management in urban societies. Although the technology is commercially viable in the longer run, the high initial capital cost is a major hurdle towards its proliferation. The onus is on the governments to create awareness and promote such technologies in a sustainable manner. At the same time, entrepreneurs, non-governmental organizations and environmental agencies should also take inspiration from successful food waste-to-energy projects in other countries and try to set up such facilities in Indian cities and towns.