Livewell Northwest Colorado: Food waste to energy
October 2, 2016
As Americans, we throw out 40 percent of the food we produce. An average family loses nearly $1,500 per year through food waste. When we throw away organic materials in the trashcan, those materials release greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change.
This unusable food doesn't need to go into landfills. We have other sustainable ways to dispose of food. Most people have heard of composting, but few may be aware of anaerobic digestion. Food waste doesn't need to be a waste; instead, it can create a profit and help protect the environment.
Anaerobic digestion is a process that simultaneously reduces greenhouse gases and creates a renewable energy source. Anaerobic digesters breakdown organic waste, such as grease and oils, expired grocery store products and livestock manure, in a sustainable fashion.
This airtight technology is a digestive system, similar to our own. Like people, it generates three end products: a liquid, a solid and a gas. The liquid, known as wastewater, is sent back through the digester for further processing. The solid, known as digestate, is returned to the land and used as a fertilizer.
Perhaps the most exciting byproduct, however, is the gas, known as biogas. Biogas serves as a renewable, clean energy source. Whereas the breakdown of organic materials in landfills releases greenhouse gases into the environment, anaerobic technology captures these gases, reducing the emission of greenhouse gases and using them as an energy source, heating our homes and fueling our cars.
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You might ask, "Why aren't there more anaerobic facilities working to convert our waste into energy?" The answeris, it's expensive and messy.
Scott Pexton, of A1 Organics, which provides the organic waste to Colorado's Heartland Biogas facility, asks "How much are you willing to pay to ship your organic waste to our facility?" The upfront cost is not small, and though anaerobic facilities create jobs and an energy source, it is not government supported.
Furthermore, turning spoiled milk, manure and banana peels into energy is not a glamorous sight. The path to creating more anaerobic digesters facilities is an uphill battle, but an important one. Scott Pexton surmises, "This stuff, this isn't Bed Bath and Beyond. … This is pretty nasty stuff, but it can be put to a higher and better use, and that's what we do."
Anaerobic digestion turns trash into money. Though it may not seem so, this process starts with you. We need to reconsider the way we look at food and food waste in our society.
We live in a consumer culture, in which we often buy too much food and are quick to throw it out. If we focus on buying less and getting more out of the food we discard, we can realize the value of food from start to finish.
So, next time you think about scraping the rest of your dinner into the garbage, think about the money you are throwing away — not only your money used to purchase the food, but also the money that could be extracted from that waste. When we shift our attitudes around food waste, we create a space for anaerobic digesters to play a more substantial role in creating a more sustainable community.
Yampa Valley Sustainability Council will host a Talking Green on Feb. 28 about anaerobic digestion and its applications locally. Visit http://www.yvsc.org for more information and coming news.
Lizzy Markman is a member of the Northwest Colorado Food Coalition.