Organics Recycling: a Sustainable Solution for Circular Economies and Decarbonization
Anaerobic Digestion Fuels a Fundamental Shift in Food Waste Disposal
By Shawn Kreloff, CEO of Bioenergy Devco
In our increasingly eco-conscious world, the importance of sustainability cannot be overstated. Individuals and communities recognize the pressing need to adopt practices that reduce environmental impact and mitigate the challenges posed by climate change. One area where sustainable practices are making significant strides is organics recycling, which represents a powerful and multifaceted solution to some of our most pressing ecological and climate-related concerns.
At its core, organics recycling represents a fundamental shift in the way we handle our organic food waste. Traditionally, these materials are disposed of in landfills, where they release harmful greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, contributing to the climate crisis. However, with the rise of organics recycling, this waste becomes a valuable resource that can be effectively harnessed to usher in a new era of sustainability.
Organic waste constitutes a substantial portion of municipal waste streams. The U.S. food and beverage manufacturing industry in particular generates large volumes of organic waste, with over 1 million tons disposed of in landfills annually. When disposed of in landfills or incinerators, organic waste releases potent greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change. In addition to its environmental impact, the disposal of organic waste in landfills is an inefficient use of resources. Organics recycling offers a sustainable alternative.
At the heart of organics recycling lies the concept of a circular economy, which emphasizes minimizing waste and maximizing resource efficiency. Instead of allowing organic waste to languish in landfills, organics recycling transforms it into valuable resources through composting and anaerobic digestion.
Anaerobic digestion (AD) is a natural biological process that breaks down organic materials in the absence of oxygen. During anaerobic digestion, microorganisms thrive and feed on organic matter like food waste. As these microorganisms consume the organic material, they produce biogas, which is primarily composed of methane and carbon dioxide. This biogas is captured and utilized as a renewable energy source.
Meanwhile, the remaining solid residue, digestate, undergoes further treatment to produce a nutrient-rich organic soil amendment. Anaerobic digestion not only effectively treats organic waste, greatly reducing greenhouse gas emissions compared to landfill disposal, but also provides a valuable source of renewable energy, making it a key player in sustainable waste management and decarbonization efforts.
When sending food waste to an anaerobic digestion (AD) facility, the type of packaging used on the waste stream is an important consideration. The AD process involves mechanically and manually separating food waste from packaging using depackaging equipment. Therefore, packaging on food waste for AD must be easily removable consumer packaging, not large shipping boxes. Suitable materials such as plastics, cardboard and paper can be easily processed efficiently through the depackaging systems.
Renewable energy from food waste
The optimal scenario is for food waste to be source separated from non-biodegradables at the point of generation, before collection, to result in the cleanest and most efficient anaerobic digestion process. AD harnesses the methane produced during the decomposition of organic waste to generate renewable energy. This closed loop process not only reduces methane emissions, but also provides a sustainable source of electricity and heat, contributing to the decarbonization of our energy systems. When deployed at commercial scale, anaerobic digestion can produce and provide clean, renewable energy for homes, vehicles, food manufacturing facilities and more.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential many times greater than that of carbon dioxide over the short term. Landfills are one of the largest human-made sources of methane emissions. By redirecting organic waste from landfills and instead composting or using anaerobic digestion, organics recycling significantly reduces these emissions. This reduction in methane emissions is a critical component of climate change mitigation efforts. Organics recycling offers a practical and immediate solution to address a significant source of emissions for the food manufacturing industry.
The impact of organics recycling
Organics recycling not only benefits the environment, but also has a direct impact on food production and food security. Anaerobic digestion produces digestate, a nutrient rich soil amendment, from organic food waste. This digestate enriches soil, improving its structure and water retention, creating healthier soil for sustainable agriculture, supporting higher crop yields and reducing the need for chemical fertilizers. The anaerobic digestion nutrient recycling process supports local food systems and contributes to global food security, a critical concern in a world with a growing population and changing climate.
In addition to its environmental and societal benefits, organics recycling creates economic opportunities. The recycling industry, including composting and anaerobic digestion facilities, generates jobs and stimulates local economies. It fosters innovation in waste management technologies and supports the development of sustainable products and services. By reducing the cost of waste disposal, organics recycling can lead to significant cost savings for municipalities and food and beverage manufacturers, creating an economic incentive for the adoption of organics recycling programs to further promote sustainability.
Organics recycling is a sustainable solution that enables greater circularity and supports decarbonization efforts. By rerouting organic food waste from landfills and transforming it into valuable resources like compost and renewable energy, we can reduce methane emissions, improve soil health, enhance food security, create renewable energy and transition to a low-carbon economy. Over 2% of all organics waste is contributed by food & beverage manufacturers, and redirecting organic waste from landfills and pioneering recyclable packaging can drive impactful change through organics recycling. The path forward is clear. Leveraging organics recycling will help achieve sustainability goals and contribute to a cleaner, more circular future.
About the Author
Shawn Kreloff is the Founder and CEO of Bioenergy Devco, and a global pioneer and leader in the engineering and operation of anaerobic digestion facilities. Bioenergy Devco collaborates with businesses, communities and governments to address the challenge of organic food waste at scale, utilizing a natural anaerobic digestion process. This process generates clean, renewable energy and contributes to cleaner air, water and healthy soils for communities. Learn more at www.bioenergydevco.com