Will reducing food waste really mitigate climate change?

August 21, 2023

4 minutes, 34 seconds read

Will reducing food waste really mitigate climate change?

The UN Environment Programme’s Food Waste Index 2021 says that “if food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions” (GHG) in the world.” The index attributes 8% to 10% of all global GHG emissions to food waste. This may seem small given the scope of this global problem, however there’s more to this story. Understanding the type and source of these emissions makes it clear that reducing food waste can make a major difference in the fight to mitigate climate change. 

With this insight, organizations can better understand how today’s innovative food waste technology can mitigate their impact on climate change – and help them tell their sustainability story. 

The scale of the global food waste problem 

Food loss and waste creates GHG emissions at every stage of its life cycle: from overproduction through landfill decomposition. However, data from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) notes that the largest contributor to food loss (42%) overwhelmingly happens at the consumption stage. The UN Environment Programme’s Food Waste Index 2021 estimates that households, retail outlets, and the food service industry throw out approximately 931 million tonne of food each year. Because global data remains incomplete, these numbers may under represent the scale of the problem. 

This waste generates GHG emissions during transport to landfills, which can be over long distances in some rural areas. However, its biggest impact on climate change happens in the landfill. When organic waste such as food scraps is sent to the landfill, it’s quickly covered up by additional waste. Without access to circulating oxygen, bacteria and other microorganisms cannot break down organic waste as efficiently as they can when oxygen is present. The process isn’t just slow – it also generates methane. This gas isn’t produced during the oxygen-rich decomposition process that happens in nature. 

Methane’s impact on climate change

So, what does this have to do with climate change? Well, the U.S. International Energy Administration reports that methane has contributed to roughly 30% of the global rise in temperature since the industrial revolution. While other greenhouse gasses may be present in larger amounts, methane reduction efforts may be able to provide faster alleviation of climate change. That’s because methane has a much shorter atmospheric lifetime than gasses such as carbon dioxide, IEA explains. It remains present in the atmosphere only about 12 years, compared to the centuries that carbon dioxide hangs around. However, methane also absorbs much more energy while it is in the atmosphere. The bottom line is that methane exhibits a global warming potential that is 84 to 87 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that the three largest sources of human-generated methane emissions include oil and gas systems, livestock enteric fermentation, and landfills. 

Simple changes to mitigate methane emissions

The good news is that understanding how food waste contributes to climate change provides guidance on how to address this problem. An essential element is making the shift to practices that allow for oxygen-rich decomposition of organic waste. This single change can mitigate landfill’s methane emissions. 

By adopting on-site practices for managing organic waste, it is also possible to minimize the GHG emissions generated through waste transport. This is particularly true for organizations that produce large amounts of food onsite, such as restaurants, hotels and cruise ships, hospitals, and educational institutions, among others. These food producing organizations may require frequent waste transport simply due to the amount of food served and, ultimately, returned to the kitchen. 

There’s ample evidence to suggest that natural waste management solutions can lower methane emissions. One study published in 2023 in Scientific Reports found that emissions generated through composting, for example, were between 38% and 84% lower than equivalent emissions generated by landfilling. This is why many jurisdictions have implemented requirements that homes and businesses compost or adopt other strategies for processing organic waste. 

However, today’s innovative food waste technology can boost adoption of onsite food waste management practices – and deliver upstream food loss reductions. 

How innovative clean food waste technology can help

Innovative food waste solutions like the LFC biodigester manage food waste onsite, mitigating emissions generated during transport and in the landfill. This sealed equipment breaks down a far broader range of food than is composted in an oxygen-rich decomposition process. Byproducts from this process include grey water that can be disposed of down the drain. 

While LFC biodigesters are already proving to help organizations of every size reduce the waste they send to landfills, this equipment can also help facilities adjust their procurement practices.

That’s because LFC biodigesters can track different types of waste and provide historic insight into the types and weights of waste generated. This type of data can help food preparers identify trends into the types of foods or times of day that tend to generate more waste. By optimizing their purchasing, organizations can lessen their demand for foods that will ultimately be wasted. 

This valuable reporting feature can also be used to share data among stakeholders. With these tools, organizations can show how they’re making a difference in mitigating climate change – and encourage others to take action in reducing food waste. 

If you’re ready to take the next step in mitigating your impact on climate change, contact Power Knot. We’ll help you find the right LFC biodigester for your facility size and needs.