New York City to Use Food Waste to Heat Homes

compost binNew York City will reduce the amount of food waste sent to landfills by converting it into energy. Last week, Deputy Mayor Cas Halloway announced that the city will partner with Waste Management to deliver pre-processed organic waste food to Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant where it will be added to wastewater sludge to increase biogas production. The biogas by-product will be converted into renewable natural gas for both residential and commercial use through a partnership with National Grid, an international electricity and energy company. Through this project, enough energy could be produced to heat almost 5,200 New York city homes and reduce annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by over 90,000 metric tons, equivalent to removing almost 19,000 cars from the road. In addition, the project will help the city reach its PlaNYC goal of reducing municipal GHG emissions by 30 percent by 2017, a goal it is more than halfway to achieving.

The New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection uses about 40 percent of the biogas produced at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. The new partnership with National Grid will help to ensure that 100 percent of the biogas produced will be converted to power, which means it will not contribute to the plant’s GHG emissions. The project will be financed by National Grid. A biogas purification system’s construction will begin in 2014. The system will purify the plant’s remaining 60 percent of biogas it produces.

“This first-of-its kind renewable energy project will harness part of the 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater that New Yorkers generate every day,” said Deputy Mayor Holloway. “The public-private partnership that made this possible will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of removing nearly 19,000 cars from city streets–a huge step towards making a greener, greater New York City.  I want to thank Ken Daly and his team at national grid, and the State Public Service Commission for working with us to make this happen.”

Last month, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the restaurants participating in the city’s Food Waste Challenge have diverted over 2,500 tons of food waste from landfills during the first six months of the program. Over a 100 restaurants are participating in the program, which is a voluntary one to help reduce food waste going to landfills. Over 50 of the participating restaurants have already achieved the program’s goal of a 50 percent food waste diversion.

Food waste is a huge problem

Food waste is a huge global problem because almost half of the food produced is wasted. A report by the London-based Institute of Mechanical Engineers estimated that 30 to 50 percent of the four billion metric tons of food produced every year around the world is wasted (1.2 to two billion metric tons). In developed countries, food waste occurs because of consumer and retail behavior. Between 30 to 50 percent of all food bought in developed countries is thrown away by consumers.

All of the food that is thrown away and ends up in landfills contributes to climate change as rotting food produces methane, a GHG which a warming potential 20 times greater than carbon dioxide. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), over 97 percent of the food thrown away ends up in landfills. Methane is the second most prevalent GHG in the U.S. emitted from human activities, and in 2010, methane accounted for about 10 percent of all U.S. GHG emissions from human activities. The U.S. is the second largest emitter of GHGs in the world.

[Image credit:  max-R, Flickr]

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.