Food waste makes up 25 to 45 percent of the average residential trash can in the UK. When the UK-based think tank CentreForum issued a report recommending that the UK ban all food scraps from landfills by 2020, it was met with skepticism. Achieving 100 percent diversion of all food waste in the next eight years would be impossible, however, when CentreForum proposed a cost-effective approach to meet renewable energy targets and provide many additional benefits, the idea started to make a great deal of sense.
According to Wayne Davis at Harvest Power, writing in Environmental Leader, the CentreForum supports anaerobic digestion (AD). AD is a technology that can process organic material and create renewable energy and natural fertilizers – AD alone can produce more than 11 terawatts (TWh) of energy for the UK by 2020. According to the report, the current barriers to building an industry that can achieve this potential includes the lack of access to organic feedstocks and the high costs of connecting to the energy grid.
Although the UK trails behind countries like Germany, it is miles ahead of the U.S. Whilst the UK currently produces 1.0 TWh of energy from AD today, the U.S. only produces 541 million kWh of energy from AD. However, the American Biogas Council estimates that the potential for AD from farms is 8.8 billion kWh, demonstrating how underutilized organic materials are on farms alone. The landfill culture is also more predominant in the U.S. than in the UK.
The global market for biogas, the fuel created through AD, is estimated to double in the next decade to have a value of $33 billion. If AD facilities processed only half of the food waste created by the U.S. in a single year, the EPA estimates they would produce enough clean energy to power 2.5 million homes. The U.S. recognizes the potential for this shift in fuel preferences. In 2011, Portland, Oregon became the first American city to ban weekly trash pickups, shifting instead to a weekly collection of organic waste like food scraps and yard trimmings and a bi-weekly collection of garbage. No one can ignore San Francisco‘s efforts on this front as well.
Banning food waste from regular trash may not be the answer yet. However, cities should make the move into providing separate facilities for organic waste from other garbage. The fact that AD is being taken seriously as an additional revenue stream is one of the factors that will make food waste a more attractive source of fuel.
Banning food waste from landfills is an attractive and a feasible option as long as cities start work planning the infrastructure right away.
Image Credit: Food Waste, Akhila Vijayaraghavan ©