The UN Food and the Agriculture Organization claim that each year nearly 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted across the globe. Food wastage occurs at the various levels of the food system, namely farming, processing, transporting, retailing, cooking, and consuming.
When this waste food gets to the landfills, the massive layers of organic waste decompose and produce greenhouse gases (GHG) such as methane that is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping gas.
By diverting food waste away from the landfills we can reduce our carbon footprint, capture the renewable energy, and restore the essential nutrients back to the soil. Food waste is recyclable and hence must be used smartly in order to trim down the greenhouse emissions that come from landfills.
Here are four effective and environment-friendly ways to recycle food waste, reducing the cost and the pollution that is generated when the organic waste is hauled and disposed of.
1. Compost the Kitchen and Garden Scrap
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, almost 90 percent of garbage thrown away by households, cafeterias, and supermarkets is composed of recyclable food scrap. Moreover, a typical household generates nearly 474 pounds of food waste each year. When this organic waste is sent to landfills or the oceans, they not only consume space, but also release methane, adding to the greenhouse emissions.
Composting is one of the most undemanding and eco-friendly ways to recycle your food waste. Several cities have regular pickup vehicles that collect waste food, dried leaves, grass clippings, and organic yard waste to the recycling centers.
If your neighborhood or workplace has a common composting facility, diverting your domestic food waste there may be a good choice. Talk to your local waste hauler or recycling coordinator and understand the local composting facility regulations. For instance, composting facilities in Ohio accept food waste that is classified as per the Division of Materials and Waste Management (DMWM).
You may also consider starting your own onsite composting project that uses the following types of wastes.
1. Greens – Grass clippings, vegetable waste, fruit scraps, weeds, and coffee grounds and filters
2. Food Leftovers – Eggshells, tea bags, and nut shells
3. Browns – Dead leaves, wood chips, twigs, and fireplace ash
4. Recyclable Packaging Material – Shredded newspaper, cardboard, and paper
Place your compost pile or the bin in a dry shady spot in your backyard and make sure it’s close to a source of water. Add the above-mentioned waste materials as and when they are collected and moisten them on a regular basis.
When the mixture decomposes and attains a dry, dark, and crumbly texture, it can be used to feed your kitchen garden vegetables or enrich your flower beds. In order to avoid odors and pests, avoid adding meat or high-fat waste, keep the system adequately aerated, and regularly mix the material in the compost bin.
Worms, namely earthworms and red wigglers can also be used for composting (vermiculture). These worms feed on the organic material and produce high-quality nitrogen-rich compost called castings.
If you live in an apartment and have limited space, you can set up a compost bin indoors, enabling you to convert your food scraps into nutrient-rich compost.
2. Donate Waste for Animal Feed
The United Nations estimates that if farmers and livestock owners fed their animals on the legally-permissible food waste, enough grain would be liberated to feed an extra three billion people worldwide. In fact, diverting leftover food to feed animals is placed in the third tier of the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy, making it a safe and effective strategy for recycling food waste.
Every state has separate regulations with respect to donating food scraps for animals. For instance, a few states in the United States ban meat-and-dairy and high-salt products for animal feed as they can harm animals. Get in touch with your local waste recycler to determine the types of food scrap you can donate to a farm or a zoo.
Look for avid gardeners, farmers, and livestock owners in your neighborhood or at a local market and check if you can donate waste food that they can be used as animal feed or for composting.
Several recycling firms, namely Organix Recycling and Eco Food Recycling are coming up with swift and innovative ways to recycle waste fruits, vegetables, and bakery scrap from grocery stores and households to produce a nutritious animal feed. These recycling firms offer planned food waste collecting services for communities and individual houses based their requirements. Partnering with these firms will divert food waste from landfills, reduce your carbon footprint, and help you stay on the path towards zero waste.
3. Convert Food Scrap into Biogas
Over one-third of the food produced across the globe is either discarded or wasted. This food waste holds a huge untapped potential for generating energy, commonly referred to as waste-to-energy systems (WTE).
Anaerobic digestion uses microorganisms to degrade the organic matter in the food waste to produce methane, that can be used to generate electricity, fuel for transportation, and heat.
Biogas is a renewable and sustainable source of energy developed from organic matter such as waste residues of vegetables and fruits, scrap timber, and forest debris. Researchers have found an innovative way to capture all the energy trapped in the organic food waste, leaving behind very little waste for landfills and oceans. In this process, the waste is incinerated to produce a crude liquid that can be converted into biofuel. The residue is then treated to produce methane, that can be used as a source of electricity and heat.
A new facility in Colorado, namely the Heartland Biogas Project collects scrap food from the state and uses anaerobic digestion to convert waste into energy. Similarly, a French startup Waga Energy recently installed a food waste treatment plant in Saint-Maximin that is capable of converting household waste into biomethane, supplying energy to nearly three thousand households in the French territory.
4. Reuse the Food Packaging Material
Restaurants, grocery stores, and other food-service establishments generate a significant amount of food packaging material that is often wasted. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, food containers alone contribute to more than 23 percent of the total material reaching the landfills in the United States.
Though getting rid of packaging material isn’t feasible for all kinds of food items, reusing or recycling strategies can divert them from the landfills, considerably reducing the toxic emissions.
The food packaging material, namely wrappers, cartons, and containers can be sent to recycling firms in order to produce useful paper products, namely corrugated cardboard, egg trays, magazines, and newspapers.
For instance, egg tray manufacturers recycle the waste cartons and the paper bags for making the paper pulp that is molded into the desired shape. Following the egg tray drying and hot press processes, the egg cartons can be reused for packing high volumes of eggs, cushioning them during transportation.
Similarly, an Italian design company, WhoMade has come up with an innovative solution to tackle food scrap. The firm has introduced biodegradable disposable plates made from food waste such as groundnut shells and carrot peels.
Over the past few decades, the growing concern regarding global warming and resource conservation associated with food wastage has persuaded both public and private organizations to take corrective measures to process waste in an eco-friendly manner. Use the above-mentioned strategies to effectively recycle food waste, diverting organic matter from the landfill and reducing the ensuing the GHG emissions.