The problem of food waste is getting more attention from consumers and food related organizations alike, but there remains quite a bit of confusion around how to solve this challenge.
Before taking steps to curb your food waste, make sure you have all the facts at your disposal. Below we address four common misconceptions about food waste that may point you in a better direction.
All food can be composted
Composting often seems to be the most effective way to dispose of organic waste, but the truth is that it’s only effective to a point. Not all food waste can be composted.
In fact, composting dairy, meat, fats and oils, and certain other organic materials can cause major composting problems.
Many of these materials generate an odor as they decompose that, aside from being unpleasant, can attract pests. Dairy in particular also reduces the effectiveness of composting techniques by elevating the moisture and fat content. This can slow the air of flow needed for optimal composting conditions. In addition, decomposing meat creates a sanitation risk by inviting bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella, bacteria that can be transferred to nearby plants.
Rotting food creates great nutrients for the soil
There is a bit of truth to this one. Decomposing food waste can release nitrogen and carbon into the soil, adding useful nutrients for crop health. But as with anything, it all comes down to balance. You see, carbon and nitrogen aren’t the only byproducts released during decomposition.
As organic waste decomposes in an oxygen-free or anaerobic environment, it also emits methane—a greenhouse gas (GHS) roughly 87 times worse for the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
According to the UN Environment Programme, methane has been responsible for approximately 30% of global warming in the industrial age. What’s more, methane’s relatively short atmospheric lifetime of 12 years means that reductions in methane emissions today can have a dramatic impact on the course of global warming.
The challenge is that methane emissions seem to be rising. Data from the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicates that as carbon dioxide emissions decelerated during the pandemic-related lockdowns of 2020, atmospheric methane levels rose to record highs. While NOAA points out that it’s difficult to isolate the specific sources of methane causing these increased emissions, there are certain sources that can be controlled. The most notable source would be landfills.
In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency reports that municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills accounted for approximately 14.5% of human-related methane emissions in 2020, making them the third largest such source. At landfills, organic waste undergoes the anaerobic decomposition process that contributes to these damaging methane levels. Many state and local governments have made the clear connection that reducing food waste at the landfill can reduce methane emissions. Yet without proper airflow, compositing can also contribute to methane emissions.
Curbing waste is just about the food you throw away
As organizations begin to examine their carbon emissions, many are beginning to recognize that the waste directly within their organization is only one of the ways in which they can impact emissions. More organizations are considering their impact on Scope 3 emissions, which include all of the emissions generated as a result of an organization’s operational decisions. This includes indirect emissions generated upstream and downstream of your organization’s value chain.
When it comes to food waste, there’s more to consider here than simply the ethical implications of throwing away uneaten food when millions of people go hungry each day. The food we consume is connected to agricultural and production emissions as well. It’s responsible for emissions during transportation to a food manufacturing operation and to the store. It’s also responsible for the emissions generated during the sourcing and production of packaging materials.
In other words, by throwing away uneaten food, you’re also wasting the emissions that occurred while producing and processing, packaging, shipping, storing, picking up and cooking that food.
When organizations have access to data on waste that allows them to right-size their purchasing, they can begin to take the most impactful step toward reducing food waste.
Food waste solutions are one-size-fits-all
As the EPA notes, some states and local communities are adopting mandatory composting laws and ordinances. The challenge here is that this encourages the idea that there is only one right solution for keeping food waste out of the landfill. The truth is that composting may not be right for every business. Even when taking the limitations noted above into account, many organizations find there is no space onsite or at a nearby offsite location able to accommodate composting. Not every business will benefit from the same food waste solution.
As word gets out about food waste disposal alternatives, many organizations are finding that an onsite biodigester might be right for them. This equipment makes sustainable food waste disposal easy. It allows organizations to dispose of a wide range of food waste using existing infrastructure. Because the odor-free equipment is installed in the kitchen area, it eliminates much of the labor and handling involved in waste disposal, as well as the need to transport waste offsite.
Most importantly, biodigesters use natural microorganisms to speed the natural, oxygen-rich process of food decomposition. The process emits gray waste water that can be safely disposed of down the drain.
A clear winner
When considering the broad impact of food waste, biodigesters emerge as a beneficial solution for organizations committed to minimizing their environmental impact. Perhaps the most valuable benefit is that onsite biodigesters make it easy to effectively take control of food waste and GHG emissions.
To discover more about how an on-site biodigester can help your organization, contact Power Knot today.