February 3, 2021

How U.S. Recommitment to GHG Reductions Impacts Food Handling Industries

Photo by Markus Spiske

2021 has opened with a number of environmental commitments from the new presidential administration that stand to have a considerable impact on virtually all industries. Chief among these changes is the United States’ commitment to tackling the climate crisis and its reentry into the Paris Climate Agreement. This treaty commits the U.S. to support the shared goal of limiting global warming by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. To achieve this goal, organizations around the country are taking action to reduce energy usage so that any remaining energy demand can be supplied by renewable energy sources. 

However, energy-intensive operations are only one part of the GHG problem. Poor waste management—of food waste in particular—is another serious contributor to GHG emissions, and one that’s been all too easy to overlook. Given the new administration’s focus on environmentalism, this is not likely to be an area where food handling industries will be able to put off taking action any longer. 

Food Waste’s Contribution to Global Warming

Today’s commercial food waste disposal practices are a big problem. This contribution to GHG emissions happens in the landfill, where this waste is left to decompose without oxygen. A byproduct of this anaerobic process of decomposition is methane, a gas that is worse for the atmosphere than the more widely recognized carbon dioxide (CO2). Because methane is more effective at trapping heat than CO2, its emission volumes don’t have to be as high as CO2 emissions to be seriously damaging to the environment. One ton of methane produces about the same average warming as 87 tons of CO2.

These methane emissions have a huge impact on global warming because the largest part of garbage sent to U.S. landfills comes from food waste. The EPA’s 2018 Wasted Food Report estimates that food waste makes up 24% of municipal solid waste sent to landfills. These landfills accounted for approximately 14.1% of methane emissions in 2017. 

Since 2015, the EPA has encouraged industries that process and sell food, as well as industries that serve food—think restaurants, hospitality, and even healthcare facilities—to meet its goal of reducing food waste by 50% by 2030. What’s more, several states have taken specific steps to mandate reductions in food waste by food manufacturers, processors and distributors, which reportedly waste about two billion pounds of food each year, as well as the intensive end-use contributors of food waste. Consider that the hospitality sector contributes as much as 12% of total food waste today, while hospitals generate about 3 pounds of food waste per bed per day. These are industries where small changes to food waste management can make a tremendous impact on GHG emissions. 

Meeting Food Waste Legislation Targets

The greater challenge facing industries today is that many of the states seeking to regulate steps to reduce food waste have seen setbacks as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with federal mandates once again on the table, encouraging concrete action to reduce GHG emissions, many industries will need to rethink their commercial food waste disposal strategies to address this problem. 

Given the greater staffing challenges many industries are currently facing, the solution may lay in identifying strategies that easily integrate waste management solutions into current practices. This integration will be necessary to prevent straining staff already stretched thin by coronavirus response needs. 

Organizations in the United States, and among other countries, have sought to address this problem by exploring ways to sell food close to expiring at lower prices or to donate foods that have reached their sell by date. For example, the new Too Good to Go app is helping people identify which restaurants in New York are discounting food near the end of the day. It’s an effective way to reduce food waste while helping low-income individuals, including those who may be out of work as a result of the pandemic. 

However, these programs aren’t able to address all areas of food waste. Some scraps must be disposed of, regardless of the available alternatives. While some localities are now mandating that businesses divert their organic waste from landfills through solutions such as composting, solutions that allow food handlers to easily integrate green food waste disposal into their typical work pattern can be helpful in supplementing these efforts and, in some cases, may be more effective. 

For example, Power Knot’s LFC biodigester decomposes food waste at the site of food handling. These systems simply replace food waste bins with equipment that uses microorganisms to break down biodegradable material. This natural process is significantly better for the environment. And, with its reporting capabilities, an LFC biodigester can easily tell businesses how much CO2 equivalent has been diverted from the local landfill, helping businesses to demonstrate their carbon footprint reductions. For organizations committed to broad GHG reduction goals, it’s an investment that can rapidly pay back as it also reduces the costs of food waste disposal.

Ready to take the next step in reducing your carbon footprint? Contact Power Knot today.

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