Special Report: Organics
Navigating the Complexities of Food Waste

Navigating the Complexities of Food Waste

As food waste represents more than 30 percent of the material disposed of in landfills today, haulers face increased demands for viable diversion options from consumers and the government, who are attempting to achieve sustainability and zero waste goals.

The diversion of food waste is a complex issue that has historically involved extensive logistics resulting in significant costs to waste haulers and in turn to their customers, the generators of food waste. The current disposal infrastructure in the U.S. typically requires the collection and transportation of food waste in traditional vehicles, resulting in significant costs being passed on to the generators as well as the unnecessary consumption of fossil fuels and associated harmful emissions.

When analyzed correctly, these factors often negate the benefit of the diversion of the waste itself. As state and local regulatory agencies continue to implement bans on food waste in landfills, the lack of viable disposal options in proximity to the source of the waste will prove to be a barrier to ultimately achieve these goals. Fortunately, there are new technologies that provide the resources and tools necessary to offer consumers a means of compliance while presenting new opportunities in an industry that is in need of a solution.

In order for the consumer to comply with new regulations in a cost-effective manor, it is necessary to identify a solution that does not rely on traditional vehicles and manpower to collect and transport waste long distances to compost facilities or anaerobic digesters. In addition to the obvious economic and environmental challenges associated with traditional collection and disposal, the consumer is forced to sacrifice valuable kitchen or retail space for the on-site storage of food waste waiting to be collected, as well as the inability to quantify the results of their efforts. It is also virtually impossible to accurately measure each generator’s waste and provide the reporting that is needed to track diversion efforts and carbon reductions.

Real data is a key component to not only quantifying our diversion efforts, but more importantly to provide generators with the information needed to get to the root of the problem. It is important to examine not just how we dispose of this waste, but how much of it we actually create.

Over the past few years, several new technologies have emerged in the U.S. that make the disposal of food waste much less demanding, including on-site options, such as our Eco-Safe Aerobic Digester. Aerobic digesters accelerate the natural decomposition of food waste and convert it to nutrient-neutral water that is transported safely through standard sewer lines without any additional handling required. Some of these units run using a continual process, enabling waste to be added as needed with no chemicals used and no airborne contaminants present. The most logical, cost-effective solution to this growing issue is to treat food waste at its point of generation. This would eliminate the need for increased logistics and provide the most cost-effective and environmentally-friendly option in the marketplace today.

Digesters tend to work similarly to a human stomach. They are designed to process a wide range of food waste types, such as fruit, vegetables, cooked and uncooked meat and poultry, fish, dairy and bakery items. BioHitech America’s on-site aerobic digester can eliminate up to one ton of food waste in a 24-hour period.

In addition to being an effective tool used to decompose food waste, the Eco-Safe Digester provides key metrics to users that can help indicate inefficiencies within an organization or quantify the benefits of reduced disposal and corresponding “truck rolls.” The digester is equipped with a scale that weighs food waste each time it is added to the unit, clearly determining where, when and what food waste is disposed of. Since the digester provides real data rather than relying on assumptions, management can identify opportunities for improvement in the process.

Quantifying food waste data in real-time is paramount for industries to provide accurate, concise and useful analytics in order to facilitate zero-waste behavior within an organization. This information, along with a heightened consciousness about the alternatives to dumping food waste in landfills, will drive tremendous opportunities. According to the EPA, it is estimated that if we were to prevent food waste from either being created or disposed, it would be similar to removing a quarter of all cars in America from the road.

The BioHitech Cloud is a secure reporting platform for data that can be accessed on many types of devices and that measures key metrics to optimize the waste disposal process. The reporting provides an audit trail to support environmental directives that tracks savings, compares utilization, highlights successes and uncovers anomalies. Organizing and preparing reports can be designed for single or multiple locations, by geographical areas, by management structure or by season.

The increasing emphasis on food waste diversion will also continue to support the development of other disposal methods, such as anaerobic digestion, a growing means of disposal in the U.S. As in many parts of Europe, the U.S. will continue to strive to utilize organic waste as feedstock for energy production. One of the U.S.’s largest generators of food waste, Walt Disney World, has recently announced a switch from composting to using anaerobic digestion to not only remove its food waste but to help power the operation of its parks and resorts.

Anaerobic digesters can be capital-intense and therefore will rely on significant tip fees to help subsidize the cost of construction and operation. While this can present a challenge in obtaining feedstock, it is likely that the larger obstacle will be the inability to site facilities within close proximity to large volumes of feedstock, leading to significant costs to collect and transport waste to its final destination. These costs along with the necessary tip fees imposed for disposal will be challenging to developers of these types of facilities.

In most cases, anaerobic digesters require food waste to be in some form of liquid or slurry, adding additional costs to support the process. Our technology seeks to provide customers with an effective means of generating anaerobic digestion feedstock without losing the on-site nature and data analytics of aerobic digesters. By pre-processing the waste at the point of generation, we are able to significantly reduce the volume of waste needing to be transported and providing the ability to perform said transportation with more efficient vehicles than traditional waste collection trucks.

BioHitech has partnered with anaerobic digestion companies, including CRMC Dartmouth Bioenergy, an anaerobic digestion facility located in New Bedford, Mass., to pilot its technology as a pre-processing unit for CRMC’s recently constructed facility. This facility accepts commercial/industrial food wastes, organic sludges, FOG or other liquid or slurried non-hazardous organics.

As the evolution of the food waste industry progresses, on-site solutions will become increasingly relevant to its success and paramount to other disposal methods such as anaerobic digestion and future technologies. Being more progressive and adopting new means of food waste disposal is no longer just a social responsibility; sustainable alternatives are becoming a mandatory requirement.

Frank E. Celli is the CEO of BioHitech America. With more than 25 years of waste industry experience, Celli has leveraged his knowledge of the traditional waste industry to facilitate the development of the Eco-Safe Digester and BioHitech Cloud. BioHitech America’s solution to food waste combines green technology with the power of big data to offer transparency, savings and a sustainable future. Celli also serves as a director and officer of Entsorga West Virginia a company that is currently developing one of the first Mechanical Biological Treatment facilities in the United States. 

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