Saturday, April 17, 2010

Waste not, want not... burrrrpppppp!

Roughly 50% of all of the food you see in the grocery aisle will never be eaten. While most of it will be bought, much of those purchases will never make it past the teeth. Then, of course, of that which is eaten, another 25% passes through undigested and flushed away.

What a waste, on so many levels!

The discarded food scraps, what happens to those? Well, about 95% ends up in municipal sanitary landfills or in municipal trash incinerators. The landfill companies will tell you that they capture landfill gas, or they recover energy from the heated gases in the incinerator. But, in truth, much of the energy inherently present in the food is gased off, mostly to the atmosphere as greenhouse gases and wasted heat.

BioCycle Magazine, a publication of family-owned JG Press, in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, concluded on April 15, 2010, its West Coast conference, the focus of which was largely the production of soil amendments and useful energy from the processing of wasted food. Anaerobic digestion and composting are the principal proven technologies for accomplishing this feat.

Europe, and Germany in particular, is way ahead of the United States in responsibly managing food scraps. Much of this advance arises from the use in Europe of energy price subsidies on electricity and gas derived from organic wastes and from the ban of such wastes in landfills.

In the United States, with carbon trading or carbon taxes unlikely to appear in the next year, and with an economy a bust (meaning less material to the landfills and price competition among operators) and with improved natural gas recovery methods depressing the price of gas, conditions necessary to support investments in technology to recover energy from food are poor.

Nevertheless, it makes so much darn sense that our communities every where should embark on programs to recover food scraps. Digestion produces a biogas for electricity, space heating and vehicle fuel, and composting produces a soil amendment for restoring our urban soils for local agricultural output. These ventures mean green jobs and meaningful greenhouse gas reduction.

Sometimes, the best ideas, though not justifiable on a typical return on financial investment basis, deserve investment for their return on a community investment. Every family can be part of the effort, and every community can benefit from the results.

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