Correctional facilities have unique considerations driving their choices for the disposal of food waste. Many operations first search for landfill alternatives as a way to rein in growing costs. As the Pew Center notes, costs for jail and other local correctional facilities had risen sixfold from 1977 to 2017, even as the number of admissions decreased. However, operators must balance these operational costs with concerns around security, potentially limited options due to remote locations, and, more recently, movements to lower the generation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that drive climate change.
It’s a lot to balance, but new waste disposal methods are emerging to help meet these demands. Onsite biodigesters are a proven improvement over many other organic waste disposal solutions. These sealed pieces of kitchen equipment reduce the demand on maintenance labor, lower offsite disposal costs, reduce GHG emissions, and eliminate the risk of pests and odors. New solutions also provide safety features. Correctional facilities ready for a new approach will find onsite biodigesters present clear advantages.
A better waste disposal alternative
In January 2022, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognized the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) as an awardee in its Food Recovery Challenge. According to EPA, VADOC had “successfully diverted a small amount of food waste from landfills” through its large-scale compost program. Eventually the department was able to expand its composting operations by transporting compost to local agribusinesses.
What EPA doesn’t highlight is that while the department has reduced its tipping and dumpster rental fees, it is still paying to transport waste offsite and generating GHG emissions in the process. Moreover, VADOC has invested in several composting solutions because early systems carried high maintenance costs. Composting is a labor-intensive food waste disposal solution, as it must be regularly watered and turned to ensure that the decomposition takes place aerobically.
These are drawbacks many correctional facilities have discovered first hand. In an effort to combat high operational costs, the switch from disposing of food waste at the landfill to composting seems like a clear win. However, it soon becomes apparent that the high labor and maintenance demands swiftly minimize the upfront advantages of composting. In addition, as VADOC discovered, composting presents disposal challenges for facilities where compost generation far outpaces landscaping needs.
The EPA adds that waste audits have confirmed that approximately half of the waste generated by a correctional facility is compostable. However, biodigesters can potentially increase the amount of organic waste that can be safely and sustainably disposed of compared to composting. That’s because biodigesters can safely break down meats and dairy products, as well as fibrous vegetables — items that would otherwise attract pests to compost piles.
Accounting for security risks
The demand for security sets the needs of correctional facilities apart from other significant food producers. Any change in operations carries the potential for creating a security risk.
However, changing nothing is not always the right answer either. That was what one Louisville, Kentucky, jail discovered in 2018, when two inmates working in the kitchen saw an opportunity. The inmates hid in the food waste trash cans and were taken out for disposal.
It may not be a common occurrence (although this certainly wasn’t the first instance of a prisoner going out with the trash), but it’s a reminder that the waste disposal solutions that work for so many operations may not be right for correctional facilities. There is a need to use non-shatter plastic trash cans. There are layers of regulatory requirements with which waste disposal must comply. Any solution must account for these demands.
It was in recognition of these risks that Power Knot developed the LFC biodigester security package. The LFC biodigester eats the waste food at the facility, obviating the transportation requirements. The security package prevents unauthorized personnel from configuring, using, or tampering with biodigester controls. This option includes tamper-resistant features such as a door and hose locks, security screws, touchscreen protection, and mounting brackets, among other features to prevent misuse.
A proven solution
Many correctional facilities are already discovering the benefits of using the LFC biodigester. Correctional Services Canada facilities, such as Stony Mountain Institution, are rolling out multiple biodigester installations. Their pilot installation proved that LFC biodigesters are a secure, cost-effective solution for disposing of the average 0.5 kg (1 lb) of food its inmates produce each day.