With the Christmasholidays just behind us, many of us surely felt obliged to binge on meal aftermeal as well as on equally delicious leftovers. But parallel to thesefestivities, it’s also a great time to ponder on exactly how enormous amountsof food go to waste, too.
If somebody stacked up all the food that wasnot eaten for a year in the US alone, it would be enough to pack a 40-floortower approximately 44 times. That’s a lot of wasted energy and resources.
If we consider therise in food consumption, and consequently food waste, during the holidayseason, you can only imagine how many more floors we can add to the equation.
Now, a huge chunk of this food waste goes straight into industrial landfills, and as they slowly rot in the said landfills, they release methane, a potent greenhouse gas that adds to the aggravating climate change. In particular, a new statement from a panel of climate experts coming from the United Nations predicts that at least10 percent of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food waste. And that is just… bad, like permanent, irreversible, Earth-damaging bad.
The good news is, we might have just found a solution: Dairy farmers in the state of Massachusetts are utilizing food waste to generate electricity.
They have discovereda process wherein they can feed waste into anaerobic digesters which thencaptures the methane emissions and produce renewable energy. These anaerobicdigesters were built and are operated by Vanguard Renewables, the leader indairy waste and food waste-to-energy movement in the country responsiblefor processing almost 200,000 tons ofboth on-farm and off-farm organics each year.
The process works byfirst, gathering food waste from all around the state, including from severalWhole Foods locations. The chain’s store in Shrewsbury has even installed aGrind2Energy system, an industrial-strength grinder that devours up all thescraps of food the store wasn’t able to sell. The machine can and will crush upall sorts of food waste from small items like vegetables, rice, grains, as wellas bones, and whole fish. The machine can even take fats and greases from friedproducts.
Whole Foods claim todistributes most of its surplus food to food banks and other similarfacilities. But even with that, there is still a considerable amount of wasteleft over. They said that the majority of it comes from prepping pre-packedready to eat foods.
Similar to how it iswhen you prepare food in your kitchen, there are quite a lot of bits that areleft: garlic, onion, or apple peel, rinds, stems, or meat scraps.
The grinder from the Grind2Energy system turns all these bits and pieces into a slushy.
Once that’s done, thewaste is then loaded into a truck and shipped to an anaerobic digester.According to the chain’s sustainability program manager, they are dedicated toredirecting as much waste as plausible and strives for zero waste. Which is whyaside from the usual food donations and composts, they also implemented thiswaste-to-energy system.
Bar-Way Farm, Inc.,owned by the fourth-generation dairy farmer, Peter Melnik also has his ownanaerobic digester installed next to his dairy barn.
His digester iscurrently able to take in approximately 100 tons of food waste, roughly threetractor-trailer loads of food waste every single day.
Peter mixes food waste with manure from his cows, then feeds it to his digester. The mixture is heated and goes to about 41 degrees Celsius. The methane that’s released from the heat rises and is captured at the top of a black bubble-shaped dome and is then sucked into a big motor that uses it as an alternative to gasoline or diesel. The power from this motor is then used to run a large generator capable of producing one megawatt of electricity, enough to power his farm and more!
Peter said that hisfarm makes use of merely 10 percent of the electricity they make and 90 percentgoes to the electricity grid which is all you need to power approximately 1,500homes.
Aside from being agreat sustainable energy resource, this system also gives dairy farmers likePeter a new source of income. Vanguard pays Peter rental fees for holding thedigester on his farm. Plus, he can also utilize the liquid byproduct from thedigester as fertilizer on his fields. An obvious win-win for farmers and theenvironment!
The company and thefarmers’ mission is a noble one, and is definitely a step into the rightdirection. But the challenge of the common people’s lack of awareness andgeneral apathy still poses a huge challenge.
Vanguard Renewables is still working on growing its operations in the state and abroad. As of writing, they are constructing an anaerobic digester on a farm in Vermont that will be used to supply energy to Middlebury College in the hopes of reducing their carbon footprint.