Tag Archives: Food Scraps

Great Potential


Insinkerator is to residential sustainability  as the Eco-Safe Digester is to commercial sustainability. 

How last week’s pasta is on track to become the next big thing in environmental sustainability.

HIDING IN YOUR KITCHEN, disguised as the most mundane appliance imaginable, might be the next great tool for urban sustainability. We’re talking about your garbage disposal unit, the thing that sits beneath your sink and chomps your food scraps into oblivion. Maybe you use it daily and never give it a second thought. Or perhaps you’re an eco-conscious sort, and each time you flick the switch you wonder, “Is this thing bad for the environment?”

The answer to that question, it turns out, is no. In fact, as more cities try to cut their carbon footprints, slash their trash heaps and produce more energy, this humble domestic convenience could prove an intriguing ally. Here’s why: When you throw your food leftovers into the garbage can, they eventually end up in a landfill. There, as they decompose, they release methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes powerfully to global warming. Organic waste also takes up valuable space, costs money to process and lives up to its name—leaving this stuff to rot in a landfill wastes the chance to tap its energy.

Send your food scraps through your disposal and into the sewer system, though, and they’ll likely end up as biogas, a mix of mostly carbon dioxide and methane produced by microbes as they digest the organic material. Unlike most landfills, many wastewater treatment plants actually use the methane they generate. Sewage treatment is an energy-intensive business; by encouraging microbes to gobble up your waste inside special tanks, these facilities are able to capture the gas to power their operations. In the past, when sewage plants made more methane than they needed, they simply flared it off. But now they’re looking for ways to expand usage of the biogas, like delivering it into natural gas pipelines or the electricity grid.

This makes your banana peels and last week’s pasta a potential source of locally made energy, like your own tiny barrel of oil. Or perhaps an entire oil well: The average supermarket generates 1500 pounds of food waste every day. Nationally, food scraps make up roughly 14 percent of food waste, most of which ends up as landfill trash, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Having caught on to the value of organic waste, a number of cities are looking for ways to increase the amount that flows to their sewage plants. Across the U.S., nearly 850 wastewater treatment plants use biogas as a source of energy. The race to make biogas is altering the image of the sewage treatment industry, which is rebranding itself from “wastewater management” to “water resource recovery.”

If you happen to be a company that manufactures garbage disposals or garbage digesters, all of this amounts to an interesting business opportunity. Disposers can effectively divert food waste away from landfills and turn it into both an economically and an environmentally productive resource.

The biogas movement is spreading slowly, and it may still be a while before Americans feel empowered and proactive every time they dump leftover soup down the drain. But as far as appliances go, there’s nothing in your kitchen with quite as much revolutionary potential.

This article was posted in the June Issue of United Airlines Hemispheres Magazine written by Hillary Rosner.


For Restaurants, Food Waste Is Seen As A Low Priority


An interesting story was broadcasted on npr (National Public Radio).  BioHitech America believes that waste disposal is a controllable expense that, when properly managed, will result in significant bottom line savings and numerous environmental benefits, however, change in business goals and focus needs to occur first.

Written By  Eliza Barclay, November 27, 2012

A row of restaurants in the Cleveland Park neighborhood of Washington, D.C., looks tantalizing — there’s Vietnamese, Italian, New American.

But if you walk around to the alley at the back of this row you might gag.
Dumpsters packed with trash are lined up, and they get emptied only twice a week. Which means a lot of food sits here, filling the block with a deep, rank odor.

Some of the dumpsters aren’t properly sealed, so grease and putrid juices are pooling beneath them. They may attract pigeons, rats, cockroaches, ants or flies, says Robert Corrigan, who runs the New York Rodent Control Academy. The academy trains restaurant workers on how to keep pests away. He says dumpsters filled with restaurant garbage are one of the main reasons pests are multiplying across the country.

“Even a half a lemon that drops off a dumpster and rolls underneath a stairwell — tiny flies will lay hundreds of thousands of eggs on that half a lemon,” says Corrigan.

Even when the dumpsters are emptied, the problem of food waste is just moved somewhere else. Dump trucks transport thousands of tons of food waste every day to landfills. That’s where food waste becomes Jean Schwab’s problem.

“Food waste is huge,” says Schwab, a senior analyst in the waste division at the Environmental Protection Agency. “Food waste is now the No. 1 material that goes into landfills and incinerators.”

Schwab says food waste from restaurants makes up 15 percent of all the food that ends up in landfills. And all that food doesn’t just take up space and attract pests — it’s also changing the climate.

“Because it rots so fast, basically it starts to generate methane really quickly,” says Schwab.

Methane is a greenhouse gas that’s 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. And reducing methane emissions from sources like landfills is one of the Environmental Protection Agency’s biggest priorities in the fight against climate change.

But in spite of the fact that as much as 10 percent of the food a restaurant buys ends up in landfills, hardly anyone in the restaurant industry gives it a second thought.

“It’s just another thing we’re used to as a restaurant professional … the amount of garbage that’s thrown out on a nightly basis,” says Cruz Goler, head chef at Lupa, an Italian restaurant owned by Mario Batali in New York City. “It can be a little staggering, I guess, but that’s just what happens.”

Back in Cleveland Park, Logan Cox, executive chef of Ripple restaurant, says chefs obsess over the quality of their vegetables and their technique. They want to make sure everything looks and tastes just right. But food waste comes in low on the long list of priorities.

“I’ve never taken the time to weigh or measure how much we do throw away,” says Cox.

According to Jonathan Bloom, who wrote a book last year called American Wasteland, consumers are part of the problem, too. “There’s about a half-pound of food waste created per meal served,” says Bloom. “That’s taking into account both back- and front-of-the-house waste. So restaurants and the customers are both joining forces to waste a whole lot of food.” (Listen to a recent interview with him on Science Friday.)

About three cents of every dollar consumers spend on food away from home ends up in the trash. And that doesn’t even include the food left on your plate or the slimy lettuce forgotten in the fridge.

Chris Moyer of the National Restaurant Association says getting restaurants to focus on food waste is a big challenge. Food scraps, of course, are inevitable, but a lot of food waste is still edible.

The hardest part for many restaurants may just be getting the workers to become aware of how much edible food they waste every day. A few years ago, when Moyer was managing a big chain restaurant, he wanted to show his cooks there were plenty of opportunities to reduce waste. So he took away the garbage can.

“You’d be surprised, once you take away the garbage cans, if people have to ask permission to throw something away how little you throw away,” says Moyer. “It was really quite amazing.”

But Moyer says getting the whole industry to take on food waste is going to take a lot of training and education — that’s what the NRA is trying to do with its ConServe program. And as we’ve reported, Unilever’s food division now has a program called United Against Waste.

But habits are harder to change than the menu.

“The hardest part about doing anything to benefit the planet, benefit your bottom line is behavioral change,” says Moyer. “Because that’s really what we’re talking about — changing mindsets, changing behaviors.”