Waste Management has had stakes in organic waste diversion for years, but those stakes are climbing as new regulations across the country are upping the ante on diverting food and yard waste from landfills.
Years of trial and experimentation have led the industry’s largest firm to back a particular strategy for processing waste: diverting food waste to local wastewater treatment plants where it can be processed as part of existing biogas production processes.
Through the process, which involves anaerobic digestion, plants in some cases are cranking out 10 times the biogas, per volume of water, as when they generated energy from treated wastewater alone, according to Eric Myers, Waste Management’s director of organics recycling.
The corporation’s proprietary technology, called Centralized Organic Recycling (CORe), first launched at a wastewater treatment facility in Los Angeles. It has since taken roots in New York City, and CORe will soon be up and running in Boston.
The Waste Managements and other solid waste industry stakeholders will have plenty more opportunity and territory to tread to sell emerging products, while confronting a growing predicament with environmental and economic impacts. Currently five US states have food bans; five major cities have food waste or organics legislation and more than 20 states have yard waste bans on landfills, according to Myers.
How CORe works
Facilities’ treated water is placed in an anaerobic digester and wasted food is injected into the system. Microorganisms in the wastewater break down the organic matter, and the byproduct is biogas with high methane content, to create energy.
“In addition to that we see 10 times the biogas produced using [food waste], there are other benefits,” Meyers says. “The technology creates a biogas they can use to supplement their own energy needs or it can be cleaned, injected into the pipeline and sold to other end users.… We developed CORe to make organics recycling cost efficient and add value for our customers, and we see continued growth.”
CORe was designed as an urban solution
Organics are taken in as part of hauler collection efforts, pass through transfer stations and then processed and transported short distances to wastewater treatment plants.
The technology’s introduction in Los Angeles was followed by a pilot with New York City’s Department of Sanitation and Department of Environmental Protection. Program participants were schools, grocers, industrial food processors and other large food waste generators.
“Based on the success of the pilot where we processed 10 tons a day we developed and now operate a full-scale facility in New York City that can take 500 tons a day,” says Myers.
Boston is CORe’s next stop. A new facility is under construction there, a move that made sense since Massachusetts has an organics landfill ban.
Cornering other markets
The concept behind CORe—to not only divert rotting scraps, but turn those scraps into beneficial, cash-generating products— carries through in other projects created for other markets.
Waste Management currently runs 42 organics management facilities, about a third of which accept food waste. And they collaborate with other compost facilities to reach further, including Cleveland-based organics processor Garick. Waste Management services its existing customers by delivering the waste to Garick who composts it, and develops fertilizer and other products.
Through combined initiatives, Waste Management processed almost 2.5 million tons of source-separated organic material in 2015. But there’s plenty more work to be done.
In the U.S. alone, every year more than 52 million tons of food get landfilled. The overall cost of this waste is about $218 billion a year, according to ReFED, a group of business, nonprofit, foundation and government leaders focused on mitigating the problem.
Collaboration is key
Last September, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture set a target of 50 percent food waste reduction by 2030. Reaching that goal will take a lot of collaboration. This is why some industry players are pooling together through strategic partnerships, whether it be with composting facilities or wastewater treatment plants.
“Moving forward, we see even closer collaboration between farmers, businesses, consumers and everyone along the value chain as key to dealing with the food waste challenge in the United States. But first we should all focus on preventing waste and on food recovery,” says Myers.
Speaking of ways to deal today, specifically with regard to their work, he says, “Waste Management’s job is to help customers’ needs on the back end. That is through efforts like composting and CORe. And we are looking for other organics recycling solutions. We see strong and steady growth as states, municipalities and individuals focus on sustainability and organics recycling.”